South Africa’s government promised Thursday to investigate why airport officials barred 125 Nigerians from entering the country, sparking a diplomatic row and accusations of anti-foreigner bias.
The dispute blew up after officials at Johannesburg’s main airport on Friday refused entry to Nigerians over suspicions that their yellow fever vaccination cards were fake.
“Cabinet expressed shock and regret at the reports regarding how African foreign nationals, particularly Nigerians, and other nationals from other parts of the world have been treated at OR Tambo International Airport,” minister in the presidency Collins Chabane told reporters.
A ministerial task force had been set up to get to the bottom of the incident, he added.
On Tuesday, Nigerian Foreign Minister Olugbenga Ashiru accused the South African authorities of targeting Nigerians.
“What you see playing out is what we call xenophobia by South Africans against all Africans — not just Nigerians — including even those from their neighbouring countries,” Ashiru added.
Friday’s incident prompted Arik Air to suspend its flights to Johannesburg, though it has since resumed its service.
On the same day, 28 South Africans were refused entry in an apparent tit-for-tat move. South Africa’s ambassador also called the Nigerian foreign ministry over the issue.
Chabane said violence in South Africa, where anti-foreigner attacks in 2008 left 62 people dead, could see links drawn between this incident and xenophobia.
“It’s actually not the case,” he said.
South Africa’s foreign minister and the Nigerian High Commission would brief journalists at noon Thursday, he added.
“It’s an issue which could have been handled differently,” he said.
Arik, one of two airlines affected, said health authorities had given the reason as incorrect or unrecognised batch numbers on the documentation which is mandatory proof before entry.
Sales of fake vaccination cards are common at Nigerian borders.