About 900 Cape Verdeans have been deported back to the islands since 1992.
Rejected by their host country after they committed crimes, the group of mostly young male deportees said they have returned home only to find plentiful drugs, unemployment and discrimination.
The head of the country’s judiciary police, Oscar Silva dos Reis Tavares, said the government needs to reintegrate these deportees, or else risk rising criminality. ”A number of them are prime candidates for recruitment by organised criminal networks,” he said.
Tavares said the judiciary police have imprisoned 12 deportees as part of high-level crime investigations.
According to Cape Verde’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the number of people returning to Cape Verde doubled between 2006 and 2007, from 61 to 128.
‘Drugs helped me forget’
Deportee Hamilton Pina, 29, says it has been difficult to turn away from the life of crime he knew in the US. ”When I was in the [US] army, things didn’t go right for me and I started using drugs. And it slowly went down from there.”
He said he was arrested one last time in March 2006, before he was deported. He arrived in Cape Verde in October 2006 after having lived in the US for 13 years.
”All my friends [in Cape Verde] are on drugs now,” said Pina. ”They all think I am the bomb [rich] because I came from the US. So I couldn’t disappoint.”
Within two days of his arrival to Cape Verdean island Sao Vicente, Pina said he had spent all his money on drugs for friends.
”The stuff [drugs] is everywhere. And no one wants to employ us, so most don’t have much to do. We [deportees] don’t really know anyone here anymore. Drugs helped me forget and fit in.”
Based on a government anti-poverty strategy from May 2008, the islands had an 18% unemployment rate in 2006; one-third of the unemployed were youth.
Pina says he found a job in October as a computer technician, and has not used drugs since going through a 10-month drug rehabilitation programme in the capital Praia.
His US-based father covered the $100 monthly fee, after threatening to cut off all support if his son did not get help.
Sitting across from Pina, a 26-year-old fellow deportee, who asked to remain anonymous, said most deportees use the inhalable form of cocaine, coke: ”It’s mad easy. I could go around the corner and get you some if you want.”
According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Institute of Communities, which oversees deportees’ reintegration, a little more than half the 900 deported came from the US, one-third from Portugal, and the rest from other European countries.
In 2007, the Cape Verde government reported that more than one-third of the returnees were deported for crimes of assault, while about 20% committed drug-related crimes.
Institute of Communities president Alvaro Apolo said the institute – a liaison between the government and Cape Verdeans who have left the islands – needs more support to help deportees adjust.
The office’s total annual budget is $350 000, of which only a small percentage is devoted to deportees. ”We are doing what we can, but there is more to be done,” said Apolo.
Apolo added that his staff welcomes deportees at the airport, provides counselling and job support, and small business loans.
But 2006 deportee Pina said he came back unnoticed. ”No one met me at the airport. I had no idea what to do. The security guard looked at my crime file, and that was it. The government [hasn’t] done [anything] to help us. Job help? Small business loans? That’s the first I have heard of that.”
Olavo Da Luz, who coordinates government services for the returnees, said there are no services for the 250 deportees in Praia.
”When the government set up deportee service centres in the islands of Sal, Fogo and Brava in 2003, there was no airport [yet] in Praia [built 2006]. We never planned on so many deportees moving to Praia.”
He added: ”Because of communication problems with the US, we don’t always know when deportees arrive, and often get their files too late. There is no office for deportees in Praia, so we can’t really give them the help they need.”
Deportees seen as a threat
Apolo estimated that about 300 deportees have left Cape Verde illegally, trying to make it to Europe.
Pina said he is not surprised hundreds have left: ”The government doesn’t know what to do with us. They see [deportees] as a threat.”
Tavares said the perceived threat of ”dangerous deportees” has been exaggerated, but the real risk is to ignore them.
”You have a group that is already isolated from other Cape Verdeans. Some can speak only English and not the national Creole or Portuguese languages.
”It is in no one’s interest to exaggerate or ignore the risk of a crime explosion. We simply need to get these kids working. And not just deportees, but all our youth.” – Irin