Africans! Is illegal immigration our surname?

African Women! Why is our own story different? Who do we blame for our predicament in the diaspora? Some say our nation, for not offering us employment opportunities. Others say patriarchy, for leaving us with limited options. It may also be that we don’t fully realize what awaits us...

March 9th, 2009:

After living with an expired visa for close to one year in China, the Police finally arrested me. They kept me at the station for over 24 hours. Gosh, I was menstruating! Seriously, I was MENSTRUATING. For over 24 hours, I didn’t take a bath. For over 24 hours, I didn’t change my pad! Whose fault was it? Mine or my country’s?

I really can’t tell, but the truth is, as I sat stewing in my own blood, I had to realize the sad truth: I was an illegal immigrant.

March 10 2009

Kong-kong-kong, Gbram, grrrrr …The next day, as the detention cell door opened, about 26 hours after I was caught, I didn’t expect to see what I saw: 21 women crammed inside that cell; six Africans, 13 Chinese, one Thai and one Pilipino.

The question in my head was ‘of all the foreigners, why so many Africans?’

After a refreshing bath offered by Sandra, a fellow Cameroonian, I finally sat down to hear the stories of my fellow African sisters. The first was sitting near me on the bare floor, leaning against the one–meter-tall partition that separated cell from toilet. Staring at the ceiling for a long while, she hadn’t looked at me since I entered. I tapped her shoulder gently.

“What is your name sister?”

“My name is Bupe, from Tanzania,” she replied.

“What brought you here?”

“Expired visa,” she replied.

Bupe had been in the cell for two weeks already. I thought I would never be able to spend that much time there. I caught the eye of another woman. “My dear, what about you…?”

“Je m’apelle Macayabou, je vien de Congo Brazaville...”

I couldn’t believe it. Macayabou had already spent three months one week in the cell. She had an expired visa too and no one to cover her expenses.

I turned around then and saw Sandra, from Cameroon. I looked at her face closely and I saw beauty that hads faded. Her inner lip had become spotted red. Her two eyes were surrounded by coated blackness. Her face was clouded by dark spots. Day after day locked in the cell had left her unable to walk upright.

I asked her if she has spent about four months in the cell.

“…My sister, I have been in this cell for seven months two weeks…” she said with a grim smile.

“What?” I shouted.

“…Yes, and this is my friend Aka from Togo, we were brought here on the same day,” she pointed at a woman sitting next to her.

Sandra said she had had a heart problem which left her unconscious for three days. She regained consciousness in an army hospital, in chains. When she recovered, she was returned to the cell.

Kelly was from Nigeria. I was told that two days ago she had stopped talking out of frustration and anger: she had been there for five months with no headway.

We, African girls, were all there for visa-related complications. For us to leave, we needed to pay a 5000yuan fine and find someone to buy our plane ticket home. If you couldn’t afford this, you’d be sure to stay in the cell for over seven months before receiving any intervention from the Chinese government.

Many more African women are in this condition the world over.

African governments, please think about your women languishing in foreign detention camps, in jails, and in terrible conditions in the diaspora. We are the flesh and blood of Africa. There is no smoke without fire. If we keep fighting to go out there, it means something is pushing us away from home.

And African women, it is better to live in poverty at home, than to become an illegal immigrant abroad. Let’s think before we make any outward move!

I rest my case!

This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future a program of World Pulse that provides rigorous digital empowerment and citizen journalism training for grassroots women leaders. World Pulse lifts and unites the voices of women from some of the most unheard regions of the world.

Topic Leadership

Take action! This post was submitted in response to Voices of Our Future 2013 Assignments: Op-Eds.

Comment on this Post


Thank you for exposing what must be a global problem. Do you have any idea what became of the women in that cell? How were you supposed to find fees and an onward ticket while you were incarcerated? What logic is that? You've done a very balanced job of explaining why women immigrate while exposing what consequences thay might face if visas expire. Your oped made me want to scream and stomp my if that would help!

Dear Potter, Thank you so much for seeing this issue the way I see it. One after the other, the girls started leaving in my face. Sandra stayed for 9 months 2 weeks. Aka, stayed for 8 months. Bupe stayed 3 weeks and some days. Macayabou and Kelly were transferred to another cell...I don't know how long they finally stayed. I stayed for 3 months. As they were leaving, more were coming. Before I left, more 8 African girls have come in. Because this assignment is meant to be 700 words, I tried to trim a lot of things. As for the fees, it was left for friends and family members to come up with that for you. If you had any money in a Chinese bank...forget it, you have lost it. If don't have any one to fight for you, sorry, you are doomed to suffer. My sister, the story is long. Thank you so much for understanding my story. Love. Nakinti

Nakinti B. Nofuru2013 VOF CorrespondentReporter for Global Press InstituteBamenda - CameroonEmail:

My dear i wrote about illegal migration for my second assignment and it was so emotional for me to write about this case, because most illegal migrants who cross the Mediterranean sea are Somalis. But there is also this angle of overstaying in another country after the visa expires and this happens to Africans across the globe. I am glad you were able to get out of that situation and come home safe. Great topic Lets keep talking about illegal migration to finally put an end to this awful habit. Lots of Love Deqa

It is so pathetic deqa! Lets sound the whistle loud, without ceasing, maybe something will be done. I can't stand the pains that African women are going through in the name of immigration...ugh! I had one friend who finally became a prostitute because she couldn't work without a visa...can you imagine? Dear, thank you for raising your voice on this issue. Let's keep the fight on! Love from Cameroon Nakinti

Nakinti B. Nofuru2013 VOF CorrespondentReporter for Global Press InstituteBamenda - CameroonEmail:

Thanks Nakinti for sharing this story.

I feel that it is not so simple to answer the question as to why there are so many illegal Africans living abroad. It saddens my heart that we have been abused and allow ourselves to be abused. We need to hold our governments more responsible for the rot and corruption in our own systems that people are so starved their only hope and escape from poverty is a life of crime or indignity in a foreign country as an illegal immigrant. The answer is not so simple my sister but with you and many others talking about it we can begin to get to the root of all our problems.

Best wishes, Osai

Twitter: @livingtruely

Nakinti, your op-ed is really impressive! Labeling in any form is disgusting, and definitely we need to speak more loud about this issue. Warm greetings, Iryna

This is a story of suffering. Africa offers few opportunities for women and many times going outside their countries seems to be the ideal idea until one is in a situation like this. I have relaticves in the uk and china as well and a lot of times they are calling under a lot of stress because their papers have expired. But they cant come back home there is nothing for them here but poverty and more suffering. So they risk their lives in the foreign countries. Many have been sexually abused by authorities because of their vulnerability. Thank you for bringing this story to life through your own experiences. It is real and just makes us want to face our governments to protect us even when we are not in our own countries.

we may be powerless to stop an injustice but let there never be a time we fail to protest. regards pela

Pela dear, The problems we are facing as Africans, as African women, are piercing us deep in the heart. Our governments need to do something to discourage emigration. Many are out there suffering in silence. Dear, we need to speak out, loud enough so that our governments should hear. Thank you for your valuable comments. Love. Nakinti

Nakinti B. Nofuru2013 VOF CorrespondentReporter for Global Press InstituteBamenda - CameroonEmail:

Nakinti, I continue to adore your writing style. I love your voice, your brutally honest, compassionate, feisty, and even funny voice. Even in such a poignant piece, your voice shines through. Many people could talk about being incarcerated on an expired visa, but nobody could tell the story quite like you. Your personal touch makes your stories special and memorable, and brings them like an arrow into the heart of the reader, where they lodge and bloom, with pain and beauty.

As you become more and more professional, you might be asked by editors to change this or that about the way you write. Sometimes editors are wonderful mentors, but sometimes they are like Hollywood movie producers - it makes me think of a joke a writer friend once told me:

Two men, a writer and a producer, are lost in the desert, close to death. Suddenly they see an oasis in the distance: they are saved! Crawling as fast as they can over the burning sand towards it, the producer reaches the oasis first. To his shock, the writer sees the producer has unzipped his pants and is urinating in the oasis. "My god, man, what are you doing?!?" shouts the writer. "I'm making it better!" says the producer.

I think your challenge will be to fit into the "professional" mold without losing your authentic, wonderful voice. Never let anyone take it from you! You may need to conform on the surface to get bigger distribution and help spread your vital message to more people, which is the goal of course. But never let your core treasure be changed; fight for it. I have noticed that successful, famous writers are professional, yes, but more importantly they have a unique, unforgettable voice. There are many decent, professional writers, but the fire of creativity and personal expression that makes your writing burn like a torch is one in a million.

Much love to you, my friend. Yours in Truth and Beauty, Orion

Sweetest Orion, What would I do without have been my walking stick through this writing process. The credits are all yours. Beautiful advice you have given me here, I will take them seriously, very seriously. And about the two men -- the writer and the producer, haha, very interesting. I will make sure I keep my authentic voice in tact, always. Thank you dear for making me better by the day. Lots of love. Nakinti

Nakinti B. Nofuru2013 VOF CorrespondentReporter for Global Press InstituteBamenda - CameroonEmail:

I have the deepest respect, admiration and love for you Nakinti ! Your character shines through your piece - very bold and passionate. I love the way you present the topics with an immaculate ease and poignancy !

You are my 'SHEro', always !

Lots of love,

Mukut Ray

A million thanks Mukut, darling. The respect, admiration and love I have for you sure equals the one you have for me. I can't say my writing is an independent achievement, I have learned from you, a great deal, and also from other writers whose pieces I have read. Thank you for the encouragement honey! Love. Nakinti

Nakinti B. Nofuru2013 VOF CorrespondentReporter for Global Press InstituteBamenda - CameroonEmail:

Thank you Nakinti for bringing to light this very important issue that so few of us are aware of. I can only imagined how it must feel to be locked up in a foreign country with no recourse to straighten up your status. I really enjoy your writing because you are energetic and outspoken. I really like that you set the scene for us and invite us to try to feel or experience what a women in limbo might feel like or experience. Thank you for this cry to African government to act! Very well done

Delphine Criscenzo

Thank you Delphine. It is usually said that experience is the best teacher -- it has taught me more than enough. I will keep blowing the whistle for my Cameroonian and African sisters who don't have a whistle like I do. Delphine, thank you. Love. Nakinti

Nakinti B. Nofuru2013 VOF CorrespondentReporter for Global Press InstituteBamenda - CameroonEmail:


I am awed by the rawness and power your words convey. You have painted a very stark, real picture and I hope that the issue of illegal detentions gets the due attention it deserves.

Thanks, Samiha

Dear Nakinti,

Your words go straight to my heart -- that no woman, no human being should have to endure the injustice of degrading confinement and imprisonment for seeking freedom and opportunity. Thank you for your cry and call for dignity in the root cause of what would ignite the desire to flee entrapment and oxygen depriving circumstances to flourish and thrive. I was deeply moved to experience the pull of your language demanding that we experience first hand with you the conditions of enslavement, that we breathe into the frightening and deplorable conditions of incarceration. It is from this first hand kind of reporting that separation dissolves, we feel the piercing deep in our hearts to quote you dear Nakinti! I would love to know more about what international organizations are moving the needle or providing any resources to women caught in this systemic quagmire? Thank you for this illuminating piece, a deep bow of gratitude

Dear Ellen, It is with piercing pain in my heart that I sat down and wrote this OpEd. The pain of being treated like semi-humans, not minding the fact that we are women, did leave a mark of endless memories in my mind. The fact that my home government pushed me out of the country because lack of employment opportunity makes me even want to cry when ever I think of it. But then, the experiences I gathered as a result of the difficult moments re-shaped my life. How I wish international organizations were doing something to arrest that situation. I am afraid I haven't heard of any working in that direction. Dear Ellen, thank you for the wonderful actually renewed my spirit. May you be blessed! Sending you the warmest of love from Cameroon. Nakinti

Nakinti B. Nofuru2013 VOF CorrespondentReporter for Global Press InstituteBamenda - CameroonEmail:

So few of us are aware of this! Your point of diving into WHY are African women leaving in the 1st place - questions of diaspora. And then the abuse of women once they are imprisoned globally - we need to raise your voice. This is unacceptable.

Lastly, your writing is so unique. The dialogue approach of the African sisters talking in the cell - was right on point. It humanized it!

Thank you for writing.



Zoe Piliafas

Voices of Our Future Community Manager World Pulse