After an operation for voluntary returns last week, the UN agency for migration IOM reports that the total number of migrants that had voluntarily returned from Libya to their country of origin since 2015 had risen to 40,000.
Over 160 Nigerian migrants stuck in southern Libya returned to Nigeria voluntarily on February 21 on a charter flight offered by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) as part of its program for Voluntary Humanitarian Returns (VHR). This operation brought the total number of voluntary repatriations from Libya to 40,000 since 2015.
343 Nigerians repatriated from Libya in 2019
The IOM reported in a statement that 343 Nigerians were repatriated in 2019 as part of the VHR program. Among those who left on the February 21 flight from the Libyan city of Sabha towards Nigeria's Lagos were 37 children and 70 women, some of whom pregnant.
Since an estimated 90 percent of irregular migrants in Libya do not have travel documents, the migrants received consular support to process their documents and receive exit visas.
The voluntary returns operation was funded by the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa (EUTF for Africa) as part of a joint EU-IOM initiative for the protection and reinsertion of migrants implemented by the UN agency in 26 African countries. The operation is the result of close collaboration between the IOM, the Nigerian embassy in Tripoli, and the Libyan directorate for the fight against illegal migration, the IOM said in its statement.
'Grateful to be able to see my family again'
"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," the IOM website quoted 28-year-old Aisha as saying.
"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 on February 21. "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.
Since January 2018, IOM Libya has assisted more than 17,500 stranded migrants to return to 32 countries across Africa and Asia, it said.