…As UN is pushing for sharp increase in migrants return from Libya***
A few hours after 144 Nigerians voluntarily returned from Libya, another aircraft carrying 257 of their compatriots on Wednesday landed at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos.
The spokesperson for the Lagos Airport Police Command, Mr Joseph Alabi, confirmed this in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Lagos.
Alabi said the returnees arrived aboard a Libyan Airlines aircraft at the Cargo Wing of the airport at about 1.30 a.m.
He said they were assisted back to Nigeria by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and the European Union (EU) after being stranded in the volatile North African country enroute Europe.
Alabi said :”We received another batch of Nigerians early this morning from Libya.
“They comprised of 65 adult females, 179 adult males, seven children and six infants.”
He also confirmed that four of the returnees had medical cases and were promptly taken away on an ambulance for treatment.
According to him, the returnees were received by officials of the National Emergency Management Agency, Nigerian Immigration Service, the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons and the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria.
NAN reports that another set of 144 Nigerians had arrived on Tuesday at about 6.45 p.m. aboard a chartered Buraq Airlines aircraft with registration number 5A-DMG.
They were received at the Hajj Camp area of the airport by the Wife of the President, Haija Aisha Buhari, represented by the Wife of the Governor of Lagos State, Mrs Bolanle Ambode.
Also on ground to receive them was the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Foreign Affairs and Diaspora, Mrs Abike Dabiri-Erewa and officials of other government agencies.
The Federal Government said it has a record of 2,778 Nigerian migrants registered in “accessible” detention camps in Libya, ready for repatriation.
The Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in a statement signed by the Spokesperson, Mr. Tiwatope Elias-Fatile on Tuesday, said the country’s embassy in Libya had been visiting detention camps to identify Nigerians for registration.
The ministry stated that those registered were issued Emergency Travel Certificates.
The ministry also explained that the embassy, in collaboration with the IOM, repatriates 250 migrants weekly and had returned 3,000 of them so far.
“From the 2,778 registered Nigerians who are still in detention camps, another set of 250 Nigerian migrants will be arriving on Tuesday December 5 via the Murtala Mohammed Airport, Lagos, at 7.00pm, to be received by NEMA officials.
“The Embassy, in collaboration with the IOM, repatriates 250 Nigerian migrants by flight to Lagos weekly – each flight can accommodate only 250 passengers.
“The repatriation is a continuous exercise and the Embassy routinely issues the requisite travel documents to the migrants.
“The Embassy will continue to engage the legitimate government in Libya and other stakeholders in addressing the plight of Nigerian migrants in that country.”
The ministry further said the Foreign Affairs Minister, Geoffrey Onyeama, had invited the Nigerian Embassy’s Head of Mission, Mr. Iliya Fachano, to Abuja for consultations.
“He is in Abuja already and during the period of the consultations, arrangements have been made for him to address press conferences on the issue.
In the meantime, the UN migration agency is stepping up the rate at which it flies migrants home from Libya, aiming to evacuate up to 15,000 in the final month of the year.
The acceleration of returns is an attempt to ease severe overcrowding in detention centres, where numbers swelled after boat departures for Italy from the smuggling hub of Sabratha were largely blocked this year.
It also followed a CNN report showing migrants being sold for slave labour in Libya, sparking an international outcry and calls for migrants to be given safe passage from the country.
The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) has already flown back more than 14,500 migrants to their countries of origin so far this year as part of its voluntary returns programme.
Nigeria, Guinea, Gambia, Mali and Senegal have seen the highest numbers of returns.
Migrant flows through Libya surged from 2014.
No fewer than 600,000 crossing the central Mediterranean to Italy over the past three years, but departures from Libya’s coast dropped sharply in July when armed groups in Sabratha began preventing boats from leaving.
After clashes in the western city in September, thousands of migrants who had been held near the coast surfaced and were transferred to detention centres under the nominal control of the UN-backed government in Tripoli.
Numbers in about 16 centres rose to nearly 20,000, from 5,000-7,000 previously, leading to a worsening of already poor conditions.
“We are seeing an increasing number of migrants wishing to return home especially after what happened in Sabratha, it’s all linked to Sabratha,” said Ashraf Hassan, head of the IOM returns programme.
In the aftermath of the CNN report and an African Union visit to Libya, some countries of origin have begun accepting charter flights returning migrants from Libya for the first time.
The IOM has shortened procedures for screening migrants Libya, collecting less statistical data and focussing on trying to ensure that migrants will not be put at risk by returning, Hassan said.
The agency hopes to have three charter flights leaving per day by Dec. 11, increasing that to five flights by Dec. 15.
On Tuesday nearly 400 migrants were flown back to Nigeria on two flights from Tripoli, the capital, and from the western city of Misrata.