A group of 332 migrants from Niger who were stranded in the Libyan capital Tripoli during the conflict, have been airlifted out of the country aboard two IOM-chartered flights.
The group arrived in Niamey, the capital of Niger, on Tuesday 1st and Wednesday 2nd November 2011. They are the first group to be airlifted among an estimated 2,000 Niger nationals that the Nigerien Consulate believes remain stranded in Tripoli.
Prior to their evacuation, the migrants had been sheltering in buildings in and outside of Tripoli, waiting for assistance. IOM has worked with the Libyan authorities and Consular officials to facilitate access to the migrants. After verifying their citizenship status, consular staff issued travel documents to those who wished to leave.
Prior to repatriation, they were transferred by the IOM team to the safety of a jointly managed transit centre situated in the Tripoli suburb of Tweisha, where they were provided with basic accommodation, hot food, hygiene kits and access to medical services at an on-site IOM health clinic.
The IOM team is working closely with National Transitional Council counterparts on the implementation of an interim strategy for the protection and repatriation of stranded migrants in Tripoli and in the southern town of Sabha.
The evacuation comes at a time when there are growing protection fears for stranded migrants who, in many cases, are exposed on a daily basis to arbitrary detention, harassment and persecution. There are also concerns for the health of many migrants sheltering in squalid conditions as cold weather settles in.
“Working in partnership with the Libyan authorities, we have reached an agreement on speeding up the evacuation and voluntary repatriation of thousands of stranded migrants in Tripoli and in Sabha to the south,” says Jeremy Haslam, IOM’s Chief of Mission in Libya.
The lack of diplomatic representation for many African nationalities is making it much harder to conduct citizenship verification and issue travel documents.
“Our biggest challenge now is overcoming obstacles to citizenship verification and issuance of temporary travel documents. We are also obviously concerned of the inherent health risks associated with the change in weather, given that many migrants already live in damp, unhygienic conditions with poor nutrition and lack of access to health services.”
IOM is planning further air evacuations for stranded nationals of Gambia, Senegal, Mali, Ghana, Chad and Nigeria who seek voluntary repatriation assistance.
The migrants have been working in Libya in a wide range of employment sectors as casual labourers, unskilled, semi-skilled and tradesmen. The majority are young men in their 20s and 30s with no family members. Over 90 per cent of the migrants have no form of identity document.
When they arrived in Niamey, the returnees were registered by IOM and were provided with a small stipend to help them buy food and return to their final destinations.
More than 90,000 Nigeriens have so far returned home from Libya. A recent IOM survey found that most returnees are badly in need of reintegration assistance for themselves and for their families, which they had been supporting through remittances. In response to those pressing needs, IOM has launched two pilot reintegration projects to assist a limited number of returnees from Niger and neighbouring countries.
The programmes, funded by the European Commission and the Italian government aim to provide the returnees with the necessary support to help them set up income-generating activities and establish cooperatives. Partnerships have also been established with partner NGOs to provide counselling and mentoring of beneficiaries.
To date, IOM and partners have evacuated more 314,000 migrants from Libya by land, sea and air. Operations are set to continue for several months to assist thousands of migrants who are believed to be still in Libya and who would like to return to their countries.