Since the fall of Libya’s Dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, rivaling factions have fought for control and legitimacy over the government, leaving the country in chaos. This governmental power vacuum has been exploited by smugglers and traffickers who made huge profits in the trading of humans. With a 1, 100-mile coastline devoid of government forces to monitor movement and proximity to European shores, Libya has become a gateway country. It has attracted thousands of migrants from different countries seeking to make their way into Europe. As such, smugglers have stepped in, packing hundreds of migrants into small vessels and shipping them off to Italy.
The reasons for this pattern of migration are on a spectrum: while migrants from Eritrea flee to escape a brutal government with one of the worst human rights records in the world, migrants from Somalia flee to escape decades of armed conflict. Migrants from Nigeria are either motivated by the search for greener pastures and better socio-economic conditions or by the insecurity caused by the notorious insurgent sect, Boko Haram.
Following the recent accusations of slavery and other human rights abuses of migrants in Libya, the Federal Government of Nigeria has repatriated 1,213 of its nationals in the first quarter of 2018. In a telephone interview with a correspondent of the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) on Thursday, Illiya Fachano (the Charge d’Affaires in Libya) disclosed that the government of Nigeria has been able to repatriate the nationals with the assistance of the International Organization of Migration (IOM).
Fachano added that the IOM was supporting the rehabilitation of the Libyan returnees by providing funds and vocational training. He said, “[t]he IOM has been very supportive and helpful in our aim at ensuring that these Nigerians who were stranded in Libyan camps are able to return home safely. I think that Nigerians are becoming more aware of illegal migrations and we hope to see a reduction in the number of people caught in such predicaments however, we will continue to protect and salvage our people.”
Meanwhile, last Thursday the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) received 165 Nigerians who voluntarily returned from Libya. The returnees arrived aboard a chartered flight operated by Buraq Airline and included 68 female adults, 6 female children, 89 male adults and 1 male infant. The aircraft landed at 9:45pm at the Cargo Wing of the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos.
The returnees were then handed over to the South West Zonal Coordinator of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), Alhaji Yakubu Suleiman, and to the Head of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) Mission in Nigeria, Ms. Enira Krdzalic. Krdzalic revealed that the IOM in collaboration with the European Union (EU) had repatriated 7,746 Nigerians from Libya under its voluntary return and rehabilitation programme. She stated that 600 returnees had been rehabilitated, with another 200 pending. Krdzalic also urged the Nigerian government to improve efforts towards positively engaging the youth by partnering with more international agencies to create employment opportunities in the country.
The effort of the Nigerian Government is without doubt commendable, but repatriating Nigerians without addressing the root cause of the illegal migration in the first place is like trying to cut down a tree by plucking its leaves. The Nigerian Government must intensify efforts to create an equitable socio-economic environment, create job opportunities, improve the standard of living, and effectively tackle the Boko Haram insurgency which has resulted in the deaths of thousands as well as the destruction of livelihoods.