More than 160 Nigerian migrants stranded in southern Libya voluntarily and safely returned home to Nigeria yesterday (21/02) on the second International Organization for Migration (IOM) Voluntary Humanitarian Return (VHR) charter this year. This operation brings the total number of voluntary returnees from Libya to 40,000 since 2015.
In 2019 alone, 343 Nigerian returnees have participated in the VHR programme. Among those who boarded yesterday’s charter from Sabha, Libya to Lagos, Nigeria were 37 children and 70 women, some pregnant.
Prior to departure, IOM conducted protection screenings and medical check-ups to ensure all migrants were fit for the journey. As an estimated 90% of the irregular migrants in Libya have no travel documents, the migrants also received consular support in order to process their documents and exit visas to facilitate safe and orderly travel.
"I reached out to the VHR team in Sabha two months ago because I wanted to return to Nigeria. A few days later, I got sick and I could not afford treatment here. The team took me to a hospital and made sure to follow up on everything,” said 28-year-old Aisha.
“I was scared that I will not be going home to my family, but standing in the airport today, in good health and spirits, I'm very grateful I will be seeing my family soon," she continued before boarding the flight to Lagos.
This VHR operation was funded by the European Union Emergency Trust Fund for Africa in the framework of the EU-IOM Joint Initiative for Migrant Protection and Reintegration, implemented by IOM in 26 African countries.
The operation results from close collaboration between IOM, the Nigerian Embassy in Tripoli, Libyan airport authorities, and the Directorate for Combatting Illegal Migration (DCIM). The team also worked closely with Nigerian community leaders to make sure all migrants seeking a safe return home are provided with the needed support.
Despite security challenges, the IOM team in Sebha conducted interviews with migrants and meetings with the local authorities to arrange for the flight and ensure the continuity of VHR activities in the South of Libya.
“We are happy to have succeeded in providing a safe option to all those who wanted to be reunited with their loved ones, and grateful for the support we received from the authorities and community leaders here,” said Mohamed Hmouzi, IOM’s VHR Operations Assistant in Sabha.
Nigerian community leaders in the region help IOM spread the word about IOM’s VHR programming, as well as track and refer migrants in need of assistance. IOM’s VHR hotline, launched in 2018, allows migrants direct access to IOM counsel.
Upon arrival, IOM colleagues in Nigeria provided the returnees with post-arrival assistance including onward transportation allowance. Returnees with protection concerns were assisted by IOM’s protection and mental health and psychological support teams. All migrants are also eligible for reintegration support which will assist them to re-establish their livelihoods in Nigeria.
Since January 2018, IOM Libya has assisted more than 17,500 stranded migrants to return to 32 countries across Africa and Asia.Distributed by APO Group on behalf of International Organization for Migration (IOM).
Aisha, 28, moments before returning home to Nigeria on yesterday’s Voluntary Humanitarian Return flight from Libya. Photo: Mohamed Hmouzi/IOM