Liberian immigration authorities have intercepted and prevented the wife of Montserrado County District #10 Rep. Yekeh Kolubah from traveling out of Liberia with seven children, over claims of lack of exit clearance for their journey to Ghana to conform to anti- trafficking measures.
Following Saturday's incident at the Roberts International Airport (RIA), Liberian Immigration Service (LIS) Commissioner General Col. Robert Budy told the NewDawn via Mobile Sunday, 14 July that all of the affected persons had diplomatic passports, but "the proper procedure was not followed yesterday" so "the children did not travel."
Col. Budy says during former President Ellen Johnson - Sirleaf's term, the UN raised some concerns about child being trafficked from Liberia, following which the Child Protection Section Desk was put at the Ministry of Justice to do due diligence before a child is taken out of Liberia.
Col. Budy argues that the decision taken was not about politics, but Rep. Yekeh Kolubah's wife did not have exit clearance to carry the seven children along with her to Ghana.
He says Rep. Kolubah's wife appeared at the Roberts International Airport (RIA) Immigration desk on Saturday, 13 July, attempting to travel to Ghana with seven children, when immigration officers asked her for the exit clearance or records to show that she was authorized to carry the children along.
In return, Col. Budy says the lady asked the immigration officers what they meant by exit clearance.
He adds that when Rep. Kolubah was notified by his wife about the situation at the Airport, the lawmaker got there enraged.
"And then he thought because of the ne exeat republica that is placed on him by the court not to leave the country, he thought that was what was transferring on his wife and the children," Budy says.
"But he did not know that they have a mechanism in place that nobody is authorized to take their minor out of the country without going through that process, because he does not know about that," he adds.
The Immigration Chief explains further that there was no document to that effect for all the seven children to travel.
He confirms that all of them had diplomatic passport, but the immigration is not concerned about the travel documents, saying immigration had to take the necessary measures to be in line with international protocol.
Col. Budy suggests that even if they had traveled to Ghana, they would have been denied at the Port of entry and asked to return to Liberia once they did not have exit clearance.
According to Col Budy, there's a system in place at the Ministry of Justice that require exit clearance.
Giving a historical background, he narrates that Liberia was put in certain category and warned that if it did not put in control measures how children are leaving Liberia to go to other parts of the world, international aid to Liberia would have been cut off.
According to Col Budy, there was lot of concerns that one parent would take a child away without the consent of the other parent.
He says this situation prompted the institution of this system to ensure the appearance of both parents to confirm that they are in the know of the child's travel.
"Then the Section will do a communication to the Commissioner General of Immigration that they have done their due diligence, and they will instruct the Commissioner General to issue a[n] exit clearance," he says.
According to him, this process has to be followed when taken biological or adopted children out of Liberia to authenticate that it meets both parents' consent to take the child out of Liberia.
"And by doing that, it will prevent trafficking of children out of the country," Col. Budy explains.
In a video interview at his house, Rep. Kolubah says his wife and children were travelling for a one week vacation to come back for the pending protest expected beginning 24 July.
While his family was at the airport, Rep. Kolubah says he was called to come and clarify that he was aware that his wife was travelling with his children.
According to him, when he went to the airport and talked with the Immigration commander there, the officer indicated that he simply wanted to know that he (Kolubah) was aware of the children's travel.
He says he was called back and told that he needed to fill a form, and the Immigration had stamped his wife and children's passports.
But in the next 20 minutes, Kolubah says President George Manneh Weah landed at the airport.
In the process of his (Kolubah's) wife and children getting out, Kolubah says his family was called back and told that higher ups had instructed that they should not travel.
He additionally says the Immigration commander indicated that their passports could not also be released to them.
Kolubah narrates that he informed the then Acting Justice Ministry about the situation, but the authority allegedly indicated that it was President Weah's instruction that Kolubah's family shouldn't leave the country.
He claims that the Acting Justice Minister said they had been ordered to even seize Kolubah's families' luggage.
However, in an official statement, thegovernment said it did not prohibit family members of Representative Yekeh Kolubah from leaving the country out of any political consideration or ongoing legal case he has with the courts. Instead, immigration officers acted purely in keeping with anti-human trafficking regulations.
According to the Government, Madam Georgetta Joyce Kolubah - believed to be the wife of the Representative - was due to leave the country on Saturday, June 13, accompanied by seven children, five of whom had diplomatic passports. The other two had laissez-passers. During routined checks, Madam Kolubah could not prove that all the children were hers, or that they were traveling with the consent of both parents in keeping with anti-human trafficking procedures.
"When she didn't produce the necessary legal instrument which would have validated her claims, Mrs. Kolubah was duly informed on how such documentation could be obtained, without which she cannot leave the country with the children. This is standard practice which other adults accompanied by even a single child have had to face, the government said."By Winston W. Parley