The European Union (EU) and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) have in 2022 assisted more than 500 stranded Nigerian migrants in Libya to return back to the country.
Presently, 162 Nigerian migrants have returned safely from Libya on the fourth charter flight for this year organised by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).
The evacuations were done with support from the European Union (EU) through its Joint Initiative for Migrant Protection and Reintegration.
A statement by IOM on Wednesday said the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly impacted migrant workers like Yousef Al Hadji who migrated from Nigeria to Libya in 2016. When his work hours as a gas attendant decreased dramatically, Yousef began working as a cleaner at a garbage facility to continue sending money home to his family in Nigeria. Many other migrants were stranded in Libya due to COVID-19 and the challenging security situation in the country. Once voluntary humanitarian return flights from Libya resumed in October 2021 after months of suspension due to border closures and restrictions, Yousef immediately elected to return to his country of origin.
Al Hadji was quoted to have said when he visited an IOM facility for a medical assessment prior to his travel: “It has been six years since I first came to Libya, and I haven’t seen my big family.” While it was difficult to be away for so long, he now looked forward to reuniting with his family in Nigeria.
Wednesday’s humanitarian flight departed from the capital of Libya, Tripoli, at noon and landed safely at Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos at 6pm. Out of the 162 migrants, 110 are men and 52 were women including 14 individuals under the age of 18 and 11 infants.
According to IOM Nigeria Head of Sub-office in Lagos, Stephen Rogers: “These migrants have been waiting patiently for months to get a flight back home and allow them to reunite with their families and friends.”
He said: “IOM’s role is not over yet. We need to ensure their needs are accommodated under the best conditions and initiate their reintegration support back in the communities of origin.”
The statement said prior to departure, the returnees underwent health checks and got tested for COVID-19 and received hygiene kits containing face masks and other protective gear. IOM also provided them with pre-departure counselling services, protection screening and transportation assistance. IOM also offers targeted assistance to migrants with specific situations of vulnerability such as pregnant women, unaccompanied migrant children, victims of trafficking and migrants with medical conditions.
Upon arrival, the returnees are given food, refreshments and a mobile device to assist them with contacting their families and to remain in touch with IOM as they receive reintegration support. Vulnerable cases are provided with non-food items such as clothes, shoes and other essential items. Returnees undergo a mandatory seven-day quarantine period for unvaccinated beneficiaries and undergo on the second day another PCR test for COVID-19. Returnees subsequently receive financial support for transportation to their communities of origin. IOM will provide mental health and psychosocial support and business skills training to help them to kickstart income-generating activities as part of their reintegration assistance.
Ambassador of the European Union to Nigeria and ECOWAS, Samuela Isopi said:
“The EU-IOM Joint Initiative has been instrumental in safely returning and reintegrating Nigerian nationals since April 2017 and we are happy to know that operations have resumed. We are welcoming the flight from Tripoli and we aim at successful reintegration for all returnees.”
Libya has long been an important transit and destination country for migrants arriving from different parts of Africa. IOM’s latest DTM report indicates that Nigerian migrants make up 6 per cent of migrants in Libya, the country’s fifth largest migrant population. According to IOM data, Libya followed by Niger and Mali are the primary transit countries for Nigerian migrants.
IOM works closely with the Federal Government of Nigeria and specifically with the National Commission for Refugees, Migrants and IDPs (NCFRMI), National Immigration Service (NIS), National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) and the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) to facilitate the humane, orderly and dignified movement of returning migrants.
This is the 94th chartered flight from various locations since April 2017 when the Joint Initiative commenced. Between April 2017 and February 2022, 19,452 stranded Nigerians have been assisted to return voluntarily from 22 countries in Europe, the Middle East and other parts of the world with support from the European Union.