By Victoria Ojeme
The National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) announced recently that altogether 10,000 Nigerians had been repatriated from Libya so far since April 2017 under the EU-IOM joint Initiative on Migrant Protection and Reintegration,
NEMA made the disclosure on 12th October this year while receiving the latest batch of Nigerian deportees from the North African country who arrived Lagos, without giving any information about the likely number of our nationals still stranded in Libya.
Last October, in the aftermath of the CNN footage showing sub-Saharan migrants being auctioned as slaves in Libya, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) revealed that hundreds of thousands of migrants were stranded in Libya, a major transit country for migrants seeking to cross the Mediterranean sea to Europe. And most analysts believed a sizeable percentage of these irregular migrants, who were unable to continue their journey to Europe due to tough measures adopted by many European countries were Nigerians.
So, the 10,000 figure of Nigerians who have been successfully brought back home could amount to only a fraction of our nationals still left in Libya, where they were said to live in appalling conditions and exposed to severe human rights abuses.
Libya’s Foreign Minister Mohamed al-Taher Siala in an interview reported widely in international news agencies last week admitted that Libya’s detention facilities still held many sub-Saharan migrants and the government didn’t know what to do with them.
Siala estimated that about 30,000 illegal migrants were currently being held in detention centres in Libya “and around 750,000 outside”. He explained that Libya was working with the EU to send the migrants to their home countries, “but unfortunately, some of these countries – many West African countries – refuse to take them back.”
However, there was a video that was widely circulated on social media in July, where a group of Nigerian migrants cried out from captivity in a detention centre in Zawiya, near Tripoli. They had smuggled out the video, taken on their phones and dated July 7, 2018, where they called on the federal government and notable Nigerians to intervene on their behalf to free them from the Libyan detention centre where they said they had been held for more than five months. In response to the video, the IOM intervened, and aided their release and have since returned home.
A Germany-based NGO, Migration Enlightenment Project Nigeria (MEPN), also recently called on the federal government to demand that the Libyan government free all Nigerian nationals still being held in camps and facilities it controls.
The MEPN, which is currently carrying out a campaign to promote a greater awareness of the risks and dangers of irregular migration in Nigeria, said thousands of young women and men were still being held in Libya not only in official detention centres but also in camps run by smuggling gangs and militias.
Is it not time therefore for the Nigerian government, working with her Libyan counterpart, to carry out an audit of Nigerians stranded in the North African country to enable us know how many are left so that they could design a repatriation plan with a timeline? It’s a duty the government owes its stranded citizens who were said to be exposed to dangers daily in the country.
Thousands of Nigerians are believed to have lost their lives in the past five years in the process of irregular migration. This should serve as a lesson to those planning to leave the country. Migrating is not a crime but it should be done legally.