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First Airlift Of Nigerian Migrants Leaves Tripoli

  • Lisa Schlein

A Nigerian migrant worker who fled the unrest in Libya waits at the Libyan and Tunisian border crossing of Ras Jdir, March 3, 2011

A Nigerian migrant worker who fled the unrest in Libya waits at the Libyan and Tunisian border crossing of Ras Jdir, March 3, 2011

The International Organization for Migration reports it has airlifted 332 migrants from Niger out of the Libyan capital, Tripoli. The migrants were stranded during the Libyan conflict that ousted Moammar Gadhafi. IOM says they are the first group of African migrants to be evacuated from Tripoli by air instead of by road or sea.

The International Organization for Migration says the group of migrants arrived in Niamey, the capital of Niger, earlier this week. It says most of an estimated 2,000 Niger nationals still stranded in Tripoli also are seeking assistance to return home.

And, they are not alone in this desire. IOM spokesman Jumbe Omari Jumbe says his agency is planning further air evacuations for stranded African migrants from Chad, Gambia, Ghana, Mali, Nigeria, and Senegal.

“IOM is planning to speed up evacuations because of protection fears for stranded migrants who are exposed to arbitrary detention and harassment, and also because of the onset of cold temperatures at the moment," said Jumbe. "Most migrants, as you know, live in damp and squalid conditions with no access to water, electricity and medicine. So, there is a growing concern of health risks during this onset of the cold spell.”

Jumbe says IOM is working with the Libyan authorities on accelerating the voluntary repatriation of thousands of stranded migrants in Tripoli and in Sabha to the south. He says the main challenge is documentation.

He explains many African countries have no embassies in Libya. And, this makes it much harder to verify the citizenship of an African national and to issue temporary travel documents needed for the migrant to leave the country.

“Ninety percent of the Nigerians whom we have just evacuated had no documents," he said. "So, we had to call their representatives to issue them with documents and, of course, that follows up verifications whether they are their Nigerians or not.”

Jumbe says he does not know how many African migrants still remain in post-Gadhafi Libya. Before the crisis, he says about one-half million African migrants were working in the country. He describes most as young men in their 20s and 30s with no family members. They worked as casual laborers, unskilled, semi-skilled and tradesmen.

IOM reports more than 90,000 Nigerians so far have returned home from Libya. It says that overall, the organization and its partners have evacuated more than 314,000 migrants from Libya by land, sea and air. It says operations are set to continue for several more months.

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