KIOSSI, CAMEROON —
Equatorial Guinea has expelled hundreds of economic immigrants who took advantage of the just ended African Cup of Nations football (soccer) competition to enter the country. The nation has restricted immigration since it became one of sub-Saharan Africa's top oil producers and, as such, a destination for unemployed and poor Africans.
Peter Forchu, a 23-year-old painter, learned to greet people in Spanish - one of Equatorial Guinea's two official languages - when he nursed ambitions to leave his native Cameroon for greener pasture. He applied for a visa three times, but was refused access to Equatorial Guinea.
Forchu, like Ebene Dieudone from Cameroon's capital Yaounde, finally got to the city of Bata, after convincing Equatorial Guinea consular officials that they were football fans for the 2015 African Cup of Nations tournament. Dieudone says immediately after Sunday’s final match they were arrested and deported.
"We came here to celebrate Africa's football with other African countries so it is not normal to ask Cameroonians to leave Equatorial Guinea. We are all members of the Central African Economic and Monetary Community, CEMAC, and as such, have the right to travel to any part of the CEMAC zone," he said.
But in the mid-1990s Equatorial Guinea, became one of sub-Sahara's biggest oil producers and in 2004 was among the world's fastest growing economies.
Equatorial Guinea is the eighth-largest crude oil reserve holder in sub-Saharan Africa, with 1.1 billion barrels of proven reserves as of January 2013 and 368 million cubic meters in proven natural gas reserves.
This attracts many poor Africans in the region looking for an opportunity to improve their lives. That was the case with 45 year old Ndip Augustine who has again been expelled and is in the Cameroon border town of Kiossi.
"I was in Italy. I saw over the net that there was a lot of petrol here and decided to come and establish here. I first came here in August. I was caught and sent back because I had no passport and no visa. When I was sent back I told my sister that I want to come back here," said Ndip Augustine. "So I entered still without no visa and no passport."
But Ndip Augustine said while there he saw a great discrepancy between what the idea of Equatorial Guinea can offer and how the majority of the population still lives in abject poverty. He said he wants others to know it is unlikely they will find a better life.
"I will advise them to go back rather than hiding. Because they have built stadiums and it is finished; they constructed roads, they are finished; they have constructed houses and have finished. They should not come here because there is a lot of problems here," he said.
Some of the expelled Cameroonians are angry that their diplomats are not doing enough to assist them.
In response, Cameroon’s Ambassador to Equatorial Guinea Mpouel Mballa Lazare told VOA that international immigration protocols must be respected.
"There are some of them who come by boat. Illegal immigrants. Cameroonians when they come to Equatorial Guinea, many of them think … you just go and take your gold, do what you want with it. But there is a minimum set of principles which they should respect," Lazare noted. "International laws supersedes national laws, but … even in terms of free movement, there is a minimum requisition of identifying who is passing."
Hundreds of Cameroonians have been expelled since the end of the football tournament.