One hundred and sixty-one stranded Nigerians were brought back to this country from Libya three days ago. The stranded Nigerians were made up of 60 males including 51 adults, two children and seven infants. There were also 101 females consisting of 92 adults, seven children and two infants. They were brought back home by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) after they spent many months in Libyan detention facilities. Among them were nursing mothers; others were heavily pregnant while still other deportees were seriously ill.
When the chartered Nouvel Air Airbus 330 plane that brought them landed at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA) cargo terminal in Lagos, the deportees sang songs of praise and also chanted that other Nigerians are dying in Libya. They were received on arrival by officials of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) and Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS). They all described conditions of their stay in Libya as very harsh. NEMA’s Head of Search and Rescue Dr. Onimode Abdullahi Bandele said the agency acted to repatriate them when it saw video clips about their condition in Libya.
Among other tales of woe, the returnees said many Nigerians had lost their lives to the dehumanizing treatment meted out to them in Libya. One returnee, 22 year old Beauty Johnson from Edo State said she was arrested and spent three months in prison before IOM came to her rescue. This was not the first case of Nigerians’ deportation from Libya in recent times. In December last year, 154 Nigerians were brought back from Libya. Among them were 58 males and 96 females, including one seriously sick person. Even before that, Nigerians were being deported in batches from Libya. At least 550 Nigerians were brought back between March and November last year under what IOM called a voluntary return programme. The first batch of 172 Nigerians who were said to be trying to get to Europe through Libya were deported in March last year. Many of them came back home straight from Libyan detention centres.
While many of these Nigerians were living and working in Libya, especially during the Gaddafi era when the country was stable and prosperous, most are actually in Libya on their way to Europe. They had already made a very hazardous journey overland through Niger Republic into Libya. These perilous journeys are organised by vicious human trafficking syndicates which extort thousands of dollars from the hapless travellers in order to ferry them across the Sahara. From Libya, they also fall into the hands of even more vicious human traffickers that promise to ferry them in rickety boats through the Mediterranean Sea into Europe. Thousands of people die every year when these boats sink due to overcrowding and choppy seas. IOM actually said the arrested migrants were lucky that they were put in detention centres as many other migrants lost their lives in the Mediterranean. About 97 migrants have reportedly died this year alone on the route linking Libya to Italy.
Two related reasons account for why so many Nigerians risk their lives and undertake this perilous journey which in most cases ends in grief or worse. One is the desire to escape from what they think is hellish life in Nigeria. The other is the belief that they will find a much better life in Europe. While trafficking gangs lie to these migrants, especially the young women, that they will engage in legitimate trades in Europe, most of them probably know that they are headed for work in prostitution rings. That thousands keep coming despite reports of the harsh reality of life in Libya since the fall of Gaddafi and also of the deaths of thousands of migrants in the Mediterranean shows that government needs to do something much more drastic in order to stem this terrible plague.
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