No fewer than 401 Nigerians stranded in Libya yesterday morning arrived in Lagos amidst celebration and tears of joy.The repatriation exercise and arrival began late Tuesday when the first batch of 144 arrived the cargo section of Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA) and followed by the second batch of 257 in the wee-hours of Wednesday.
The voluntary returnees who have been languishing in various slave and detention centres in war-turn Libya, descended the chartered aircraft with songs of praise as tears freely flowed from their eyes. At least five of the returnees took moments to lay on the tarmac either feeling the Nigerian soil yet again or in appreciation to God for sparing their lives while the ordeal lasted.
The first aircraft came in with 102 male and 42 female. Among them were two children and six infants. The second batch comprised of 65 adult females, 179 adult males, seven children and six infants.
Spokesperson for the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), South West Zone, Ibrahim Farinloye, said the returnees were assisted to Nigeria by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and the European Union (EU).
Farinloye also confirmed that four of the returnees had medical cases and were promptly taken by a waiting ambulance for treatment in the hospital.It was gathered that the returnees were received by officials of NEMA, Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS), the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) and the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN).
Also on ground were wife of the President, represented by the Lagos State’s first lady, Bolanle Ambode, Senior Special Adviser to the President on the Diaspora, Abike Dabiri-Erewa, among other officials.
Many illegal immigrants, on their way to greener pastures in Europe, got stranded in Libya and at the mercy of traffickers who sold them to slavery. Inability to pay the huge ransom lands several in private prisons, with more than half paying with their lives.
In the wake of the global outcry against the inhumanity in Libya, the Federal Government said it has recorded 2,778 Nigerian migrants registered in “accessible” detention camps in Libya and ready for repatriation. But much more are in private prisons in the nooks and crannies of Libya, some returnees confirmed.
The Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in a statement signed by the spokesperson, Tiwatope Elias-Fatile, 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.
“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, 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.’’