UK Government explains why it made a U-turn and barred IPOB from seeking asylum

The British Government has explained why it made a U-turn in its treatment of members of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and banned them from seeking asylum in its country.

The United Kingdom (UK) government had in April 2021, said that it was planning to grant asylum to the persecuted members of the separatist group as part of its refugee policy published at the time.

The UK authorities in an updated asylum policy in May 2022 referred to IPOB as a terrorist organisation to be excluded from its asylum programme over alleged links to violence in the south-east.

According to Channels Television, the UK government explained that it took the decision to ban IPOB as a result of the recent activities reported in Nigeria.

According to Britain, Nigerian authorities have since proscribed IPOB as a terrorist group while the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) has also been banned, but not designated the same status as the former.

What the UK Government is saying in the updated asylum policy

The statement reads, “IPOB is proscribed as a terrorist group by the Nigerian government, and members of the group and its paramilitary wing – the Eastern Security Network (created in December 2020) – have reportedly committed human rights violations in Nigeria.

“MASSOB has been banned but is not a proscribed terrorist group in Nigeria. It too has reportedly been involved in violent clashes with the authorities.

“If a person has been involved with IPOB (and/or an affiliated group), MASSOB or any other ‘Biafran’ group that incites or uses violence to achieve its aims, decision-makers must consider whether one (or more) of the exclusion clauses under the Refugee Convention is applicable. Persons who commit human rights violations must not be granted asylum.”

The UK, which stated that any person excluded from the Refugee Convention would also be excluded from a grant of humanitarian protection, however, advised decision-makers to still consider all claims on an individual basis, taking into account each case’s specific facts.

In the political context, the UK described Biafra as a loosely defined area in Nigeria’s south-east that roughly corresponds to Abia, Imo, Ebonyi, Enugu, and Anambra States.

MASSOB regarded as one of the extremist groups

The UK stated that MASSOB was identified in May 2013 by former President Goodluck Jonathan as one of the three ‘extremist groups threatening national security’.

It said, “MASSOB, since its formation in the late 1990s, has clashed with the security forces. Some sources report that numerous individuals have been killed, wounded, and arrested during these clashes – usually during demonstrations.”

“Through its online platform, ‘Radio Biafra’, and other social media, IPOB has increasingly used inflammatory rhetoric to encourage secessionist aspirations and resistance to the authorities, including violence,” the UK government said of IPOB.

“Sources reported that the security forces have arrested hundreds of IPOB supporters at different events, particularly between 2015 and 2017 and including during raids on homes of IPOB leaders. Since 2015, IPOB has also claimed that the security forces have used excessive force, including killing and injuring hundreds of its supporters.”

What you should know

  • Recall that in April 2021, the UK government said it was planning to grant asylum to persecuted members of IPOB and MASSOB, as part of its refugee policy published at the time.
  • The UKVI, a division of the Home Office, directed its decision makers to consider if a person “who actively and openly supports IPOB is likely to be at risk of arrest and detention, and ill-treatment which is likely to amount to persecution.”
  • If the person can prove persecution, then the IPOB member or supporter could be granted asylum.
  • The published policy note was however, taken down a few days later following complaints from the Nigerian government.
  • The embattled leader of IPOB, Nnamdi Kanu, who is also a UK citizen, has been in the custody of the Nigerian government on the grounds of allegations, including treason.

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