The International Organisation for Migration, IOM, Libya on Thursday assisted 162 stranded Nigerians migrants, including 28 women and 3 children, to return home to Nigeria from Libya.
Of the group, 146 had spent months in immigration detention centres, namely Abu Saleem, Qarapoly and al Zawia detentions centres.
The repatriation was in close cooperation with the Libyan authorities, the Nigerian Embassy in Tripoli and the IOM mission in Nigeria.
The returnees came on board a chartered flight that departed Tripoli’s Mitiga Airport and arrived in Lagos the same afternoon.
The repatriated migrants were received by IOM Nigeria at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport and were provided with cash grants upon arrival. 20 of them will be provided with some reintegration supports.
Before departing Libya all of the migrants were provided with hygiene kits, clothes and shoes. A mobile patrol from the Libyan Directorate of Combating Illegal Migration, DCIM, escorted the buses to Mitiga airport.
The circumstances of this group were similar to the other migrants who were previously repatriated by IOM from Libya. Almost all the migrants traveling on this charter were detained after they were intercepted at sea, trying to get to Europe.
Some of the migrants who spoke explained why they felt compelled to embark on these perilous journeys.
Omar, a 19 year-old, who was in tears, narrated his ordeal. “I made it to Libya six months ago, and I settled in Garaboli city, 60 km east of Tripoli, with the intention of travelling to Italy, where I was arrested by a militia member together with other migrants. He threatened to send us to prison if we refused to work for him.
“We worked at his farm, for no money at all. When we tried to escape he asked us to pay 500 dinars ($360) for our release. Then he put us in a room and shot at us with his gun. I was shot in the leg. He then threw gasoline on us and set us on fire. I was severely burned. I managed to escape from the farm and I was eventually taken to the hospital by police who found me lying on the side of the road.”
Adama, a 38-year-old father of three, living with his mother borrowed $5,000 to travel. He arrived in Libya five months ago and spent three months in the detention center. “It does not matter which country, any country in Europe is a paradise for me and worthy of any risk to reach, even if the price is my life,” he said.
Abdul, a 25-year-old paraplegic, said his physical condition did not prevent him from working as an auto mechanic in Nigeria after dropping out of school, to help his parents and his brothers. However, he lost his job and struggled to survive.
His frustration meant that he was easily convinced when his friends in Italy persuaded him that there would be plenty of opportunities for him under Italian disability laws. His journey was much harder than other migrants anyone else because of his condition.
When he arrived in Libya, he was forced to work for two months in an electronic repair shop owned by a brother of one of the smugglers in Sabha, South Libya, to pay for his passage to Tripoli. Upon his arrival in Tripoli last February, he tried to find work to raise money for his passage on the boat.
He was however, arrested just two weeks after he arrived. “I chose the humanitarian repatriation although I’m sure that the situation at home is much worse. I have to face my family with empty hands after all that they spent to get me here in the first place. I hope the IOM will help in securing income just as it helped me to secure my return to my country,” said Abdul.
Aicha, a 39 year-old mother of two, arrived in Libya five months ago via the desert. She had left her two children with her husband in search of a better life. She said, “It was a long and hard trip where my life was threatened twice when I fell down from the truck between Agadez (Niger) and Al Qatrun (Libya) because of huge amount of migrants that were on the back of the truck. After my arrival in Tripoli, I found work as a maid in one of the connection houses – which is more like houses of prostitution. Eventually, I had to escape and began to think seriously about the return. Luckily I heard from a friend that IOM organizes voluntary repatriation so I registered with the embassy.”
Despite their journeys of hope ending in detention centres, these migrants consider themselves lucky to have escaped death trying to cross the Mediterranean, which this year has claimed the lives of over 2,438 migrants and refugees on the central Mediterranean route.
The fund for this charter was provided by the Swiss Secretariat of Migration, under the project Provision of Humanitarian Repatriation and Reintegration for Stranded Migrants in Libya.