Way clear for US Immigration to deport about 1,000 Sierra Leoneans
An Exclusive Interview with Mr. Alpha Kholifa Koroma, LLB (HONS) LLM, MSC. (Lon, UK) – The Sierra Leone Chief Immigration Officer (CIO) was in Washington DC on a short official visit July 15 to August 4, 2010 on invitation by the United States Homeland Security and the State Department. I met him at his Residence Inn Hotel on Vermont Street in Washington, D.C. His team of three comprised of Ms. Kadie Sesay, Head of Foreign Nationals Unit (HFNU), and Mr. Abu Bakarr.S. Kabba, Acting Public Relations Officer (APRO). (Photo: Mr. Alpha Kholifa Koroma, CIO, Sierra Leone)
I know that you are tired by now after having a hectic week traveling from state to state.
Yes, indeed, but it is part of the job.
Sir, do you have time so that I can have a short interview with you?
Well, I don’t know about a short interview. All the interviews that I ever had are long, but I think we can have one.
I appreciate it very much, thanks.
Arolyn first of all I must thank you for giving me the opportunity to tell the Sierra Leone Immigration Service story to our anxious population regarding our various immigration issues.
Mr. Alpha K. Koroma what is your mission to the United States?
I was invited by the Office of Homeland Security and the State Department to come and positively verify Sierra Leoneans who are languishing in U.S. prisons centers awaiting deportation.
Can your briefly explain so that people will understand exactly what your team came to do?
There has been a long standing dispute between the U.S. Homeland Security, the State Department and the Sierra Leone Government regarding Sierra Leonean citizens who had committed offences ranging from petty theft, drug possession, fighting, overstaying and murders. The U.S. court had found these individuals guilty of the crimes committed, but for too long our government refused to cooperate or refused to accept their deportation to Sierra Leone.
The Chief of the U.S. mission in Sierra Leone is constantly pressuring our government to accept our national’s deportation and hence, the need for an immigration expert to come and hold discussions with officials of the Homeland Security as to how this controversy could be brought to an end.
Upon arrival my team visited many states and some detention centers where verification exercises for presumed nationals of Sierra Leoneans to be properly identified as bona fied nationals of Sierra Leone. Interviews were conducted and a good number of those who claimed to be Sierra Leoneans are found to be nationals of other African countries.
There are too many non-Sierra Leoneans who are holding Sierra Leone citizenship passports around the world today. What are the criteria for Sierra Leone citizenry?
The criteria for sierra Leone citizenship is quite complex; according to the 1973 Legislation a person deemed to be a citizen of Sierra Leone has to have his parents of Negro African Descent (NAD). The Act specified the parental parentage as a pre-condition for the acquisition of Sierra Leone Nationality. But today the 2006 Act which introduced Dual Nationality (DN) has extended the condition to the maternal parentage; therefore, a person’s citizenship in Sierra Leone must now be attributed either by the parental parentage or the maternal parentage.
What problems is your department encountering due to Sierra Leone’s porous boundaries with its neighbors, and what measures is your department taking to stop the influx of illegal foreigners?
There are lots of problems: Managerial, the Immigration system lacks personnel with competencies and skills at managerial level to manage the borders of our country. Secondly, there is the problem of logistical and financial structures. Since the immigration as an institution does not have the independence or an autonomy that is necessary for the strengthening of its financial and logistical base. It is difficult to sufficiently manage the affairs of controlling and monitoring our borders.
Thirdly, personnel problem; immigration, just as any other profession needs a strong personnel base competent enough to be able to carry out the day to day movement of people both within and outside the boundaries of Sierra Leone.
A fourth of the Immigration Customer Service (ICS) are not very well informed in Immigration matters. Nearly a whole lot of them are not even empowered in the various facet of the immigration system with the exception of the practical knowledge (learning on the job) which a few employees had gained when the system was under the Sierra Leone Police Department to monitor just a few.
What plans do you have to monitor visitors so that you will know when their visitor’s visa or visiting certificates has expired?
Since taking over the management of the Immigration Service system there has been a systematic method which is in place to monitor all foreign nationals coming into the country. About a year ago there has been a computerized system of registering passengers of all sorts entering the recognized borders of Sierra Leone. Thereby maintaining an efficient data base that helps us to easily trace foreigners in their various locations in the country. There are penalties that could be meted out to foreign Nationals committing administrative offences such as over staying and subject to removal or registering as residents of the country depending on the circumstances as specified by the immigration rules and regulation.
I have seen Indians, Chinese, Nigerians etc who cannot speak Krio, Mende or English with Sierra Leone citizenship passport, Will you comment?
There are two sides to the coin relating to this question.
These are foreign nationals if at all if they have lived in Sierra Leone for a period of time might have gone through the lawful means through naturalization to acquire our passport, or they might have clearly acquire these passports through the Black-Market that is through unlawful means.
Is your department getting the full support of the government?
Yes, we get government full support.
Currently it has been proven that some foreign nationals are counterfeiting Sierra Leone’s currency. What measures is your department taking to prevent, or punish these criminals?
Mr. Koroma, I thank you for asking that question, but I think the question is not within my jurisdiction. It should be directed to the Sierra Leone Police Department.
What legacy will you like to leave in the Immigration Department after you exit?
I would like to have a legacy of an effective immigration Service amendable to handling National Security issues, an effective system of visa registration, a computerized information management system, an effective border control mechanism, an improved personnel in terms of competence, skills, abilities and the need for such an institution to be graded as one of the foremost institution of government.
Mr. Koroma, there were rumors and then we had evidences, after I was called in both October 2009 and April 2010, by a Los Angeles, California Attorney friend of mine who asked me to go and see boxes of Mexican Peso and the Sierra Leone counterfeit currencies. (I did not go to Los Angeles, and the culprits are now in Jail, I was informed). The culprits were relatives of foreign nationals living and conducting businesses in Sierra Leone. What measures is your department taking to prevent or punish these criminals?
Arolyn, thanks for asking the question regarding counterfeiting our currency. The question is out of my jurisdiction. It should be directed to the police department. The police department has to take action first, before my department.
Again I would like to thank you for allowing me to interview you, because these are burning issues our people are concern about.
I thank you very much Mr. Arolyn Koroma.
By Arolyn I. Koroma, Washington, DC –USA
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