The Ironies of this Immigration Crackdown

Friday 30 September 2011

I don’t often blog about the serious stuff here mostly because a society is just so complicated that it’s really difficult to sum something up in a 500-word blog post.  It’s hard to write something that doesn’t come across as judgmental and stereotypical and most of all, I don’t want to offend anyone however, these are my experiences, good and bad, and my take on what I see and experience.

As I wrote my last post, things were frantic here.  No one knew what was happening or why it was happening.  Rumours were flying, people were panicking, it just wasn’t good all around and I can’t say that things are a whole lot better.  Everything is so ill communicated here and even when they are communicated, they rarely make sense.  When you do find out information, you wonder if you can believe it and worry that things could change quickly and turn volatile.  The biggest fear is that we really have no defense here.  Corruption is rampant; they change & make rules to suit their own benefit and it’s near impossible to defend yourself if they charge you with something.  It can be quite scary and you want to do everything to make sure you don’t come under fire for anything.

The checkstops continue and the police continue to ‘visit’ the bases of international companies to conduct their investigation.  Some days they are looking for one thing, others it’s another.  Originally, they were only looking at the men and the few women who work here but yesterday, the police went in to the supermarket and began questioning women.  I’ve heard of a few people being asked to leave within 72 hours and others have been allowed to stay while their name remains on a list.  Some have been advised not to leave as they may not be allowed to re-enter.

In all of this, there are things that just don’t make sense:

  • We were all let in to this country.  We didn’t illegally cross the border or pull up in a fishing boat seeking refuge in Gabon.  All of us have visas or residence cards and we’ve all passed through immigration numerous times in and out of the country.  We go through the lengthy process of acquiring a residence card and then go through the lengthy process of getting exit and entry visas just to travel.  Each time the Gabonese government approves us.  If they don’t want us here, they shouldn’t approve our entry.

  • The majority of international companies try very hard to tow the line of immigration as that is something they really don’t want to have issues with down the road.  It can really hamper their business and relationship with the country.  When the government decides that all foreigners need new documents, the companies try to get those papers as soon as possible to avoid future problems.  In this case, most companies have submitted applications for the newly required work permit but the government currently isn’t issuing them – even though they are required.  I've heard that those without the permit will be fined 1.2 million cfa ($2400) even if they've previously applied for it.

  • There is a trail of paperwork a mile long about every expat here.  I can’t count how many applications I’ve submitted for visas alone not to mention the numerous passport photos I’ve had to get for those applications.  Where does it all go?  Why is it necessary that they pull every expat into the immigration office and copy it all out by hand from our passports?

  • Just a few weeks ago, the Gabonese government and a large international company hosted a large gala in Libreville spending thousands upon thousands of dollars to showcase a new special economic zone in Gabon.  Propaganda is all over the place and the government continues to stress that they welcome new industry and new companies to Gabon.  They continue to tout Gabon as an internationally friendly place to invest when those that are here aren’t feeling very welcome.

We are well aware that we are guests in another country.  We follow their laws and customs and even though we may complain here and there, many of us are happy to have the opportunity to learn about life outside of our own bubbles.  We accept that things are different and we respect that hoping that we are respected in return.  This week we have not felt respected.

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