From Nigeria to Europe: How dreams died in Libya
A chartered Libyan Airline touched down at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, last Tuesday, with over 200 young Nigerians that have left in search of greener pastures abroad. With their hopes dashed in Libya, they returned with what remains of their shattered dreams. WOLE OYEBADE reports.
It was a fine afternoon in Lagos when Airbus A330-200 aircraft landed at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos. The time was 15:40pm.Slowly but steadily, the Libyan Airlines plane taxied off the runway, but by-passed the international wing of the airport. Though a passenger airliner, it pushed inwards to the cargo section of the terminal before making a halt.
Dozens of airport officials, apparently awaiting the aircraft, quickly inched closer and swamped round the airbus, suggesting that onboard the plane were not the usual air travellers. As was later discovered, it was a chartered aircraft conveying Nigerians that have voluntarily decided to flee Libya for their home country.
For the Assisted Voluntary Returnees (AVRs), as they are called, Libya was indeed a hell and their stint, a nightmare. Though their lips could barely relay the experiences, it was clear that they were returning with broken and shattered dreams, having lost all except their lives.
Coming off the aircraft took a while on that afternoon. Immigration and health officials had commenced clearance on board shortly after arrival.About an hour after arrival, the returnees began to trickle out, at least one or two every minute. Their anorak-like wears were uniform, of colours ranging from black to brown with canvass to match. They were gifts from the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) that facilitated their return to Nigeria.
While a few had just more than a small yellow polythene bag as luggage, a host of others had nothing to pull along.On their faces were countenances that caught a lot of attention. They suggested a long sojourn in captivity. For six children and teenagers, it was a sense of pain mixed with shock. On the faces of the adults were those of disappointment and relief to have made it back home alive.
Some broke into sweat and yanked off the hood as the sun touched their skin at the tarmac. It was like they have not seen it in a long while.Some of the young men, apparently in their 20s, have on them overgrown beards. The Guardian learnt that there were some that had been languishing in Libyan prisons for committing no specific crime whatsoever other than immigration issues.
Godsent Osanyande, in his late 20s, is one of the returnees that came with gunshot wounds. He has been living in Libya for the past five years, where he had gone in search of greener pastures.Sitting in one of the ambulances parked close to the aircraft, Osanyande said that the wound was the aftermath of a scuffle with his landlord, an Arab, over rent.
He told reporters that his landlord came some months ago, saying times were hard and he needed a one-year rent from the Edo-born Osanyande. Unable to meet the demand, arguments ensued, only for his landlord to later show up with a pistol and shot at him. From clinic, Osanyande landed in prison.
“Life in that place (Libya) is best imagined than experienced. I really prayed to God to deliver me from their hands. Yes, I’m very sick, but happy to be back to Nigeria. No matter how bad things are in here, we are far better than Libya. There, no friend, nothing. Nigeria is still better.”It would be recalled that Libya was embroiled in a civil war in the wake of the Arab Spring in 2011, and since the death and defeat of Muammar Gaddafi’s loyalist forces, Libya has been torn among numerous rival, armed militias affiliated with distinct regions, cities and tribes, while the central government has become weak and unable effectively to exert its authority over the country.
The current government faces major challenges in disarming and demobilising militias, improving the rule of law, and reforming the state-dominated economy.Cost of living in Libya is 51.74 per cent higher than in Nigeria. Rent in Libya is 3.27 per cent higher than in Nigeria.
Like Osanyade, another male returnee recounted his tale of misfortune in the Arab country. He is one of the four that had to be carried off the plane. Strapped around his waist was a catheter and urine bag.He recalled that he was returning from work on the fateful day sometime last year, when three young men approached him to demand for his phone.
“In Libya, phones are very expensive and a luxury for people that can afford it. They started searching for my phone. They are small boys and I tried to struggle with them, before I heard the gunshot.” The single shot ran through his stomach inflicting damage to his scrotum. For the incident, he also landed in hospital and from there, prison custody.
Some were not as lucky as Osanyande and others that still have their lives.A teenage girl, with names undisclosed, burst into tears on hitting the tarmac. She had lost her mother who took her to Libya.An official of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) told The Guardian on condition of anonymity that most of the returnees were actually heading to Europe through Libya.
“Some of them had been taken by human traffickers though Agadez in Niger Republic to Libya, with the hope of taking them to Europe, through the dangerous voyage across the (Mediterranean) for illicit trade. If they are unfortunate, they get stuck in Libya,” the official informed.
He added that Nigerians are on a daily basis travelling the dangerous route. He recalled that about 20 were recently arrested in their attempt to cross the border into Niger on their way to Libya with no valid papers. Most of the victims would have been promised lucrative jobs but are instead forced into prostitution once in Europe.
In March this year, no fewer than 172 Nigerians were deported by the Libyan government for reasons not unconnected with overstaying their visas in Libya in addition to committing other immigration offences in the North African country.One of the deportees, who simply identified himself as Chris, claimed that he travelled out of Nigeria about two years ago in search of greener pastures. He, however, insisted that he didn’t commit any crime in Libya that would warrant his deportation back to Nigeria.
In June, another batch of 162 – 132 male, 27 female returned home, with some of them seeking help from the founder of The Synagogue Church for All Nations. One of the returnees, Anthony Akhuemokhan, narrated his ordeal: “Before I left Nigeria, I was working as a site assistant in a company in Lagos, before I was misinformed about the Europe route. On getting to Libya, however, it was not what I expected. What I went through to even get to Libya can be likened to passing through hell.
“I got to Tripoli on February 12, 2016 and would you believe that I spent all my time there in prison? I was there for about three months before the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and the United Nations (UN) intervened in our situation by helping us with feeding and clothing. They also said they wanted to help us get back to our country and asked if we were willing to return home.
“They explained to us that the reason we were being held in prison was because they didn’t want economic meltdown in Europe. Let me not lie to you, life over there was not easy. Even to get food to eat was not easy. We had to pray hard for help, which thankfully came.”
Libyan authorities recently apprehended some 3,500 migrants trying to take boats to Europe, according to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) (another 880 migrants are thought to have died in a string of shipwrecks).
IOM has organised voluntary repatriation for several hundred detained migrants from Senegal, Niger, Mali, and Nigeria since the beginning of the year, but many of the migrants are likely to reattempt the journey to Europe.The 241 that arrived on Tuesday were the third of such exercises since the year began. Officer of the IOM in Lagos, Nahashon Maina Thuo, said that the international body had continued to reach Nigerians in Libya, to offer assistance for those that voluntarily want to return home.
Besides ensuring their feeding and welfare, they would each be given the sum of $50 (N15,000 plus) to assist them return to their various states of origin and destinations within Nigeria.
A fair percentage of them will also be eligible for integration assistance to start up small businesses, while the critically ill will be assisted to have their medical bills covered to a certain extent.
Director of Relief and Rehabilitation at National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), Aliu Bafada Sambo, said it was the responsibility of the agency to receive them from IOM, accommodate them and ensure that they are taken to their various states and local governments.
Sambo said: “They returned voluntarily. They are not deported. They had immigration issues in Libya and are returning home on their own volition.“We will have them return to their states as quick as possible. These are our Nigerian brothers and sisters; they are not strangers. Some of them have even expressed willingness right from here to return to their states. So, we will do that. We will organise transport right to their states and probably to their respective local governments.”
The challenge, however, is that some of them will still attempt to go back, with the hope of reaching Europe.An example is 35-year-old Kalu that insisted on trying again. It initially took him two years to reach Italy, during which time he was incarcerated three times, abducted twice and repeatedly beaten, both in detention and whilst trying to find work in Libya’s main cities. He was deported back to Nigeria after just three weeks in Italy, and immediately started borrowing money to make the journey again!