- The dire situation of migrants in Libya en route to Europe has created many headlines. Now, a voluntary return and reintegration programme is creating hope for the many West Africans stranded in Tripoli.
The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) set up the programme already in 2006, but only now is the return offer becoming popular. Some 350 undocumented migrants from Niger, Ghana, Mali, Burkina Faso, Senegal and Togo who are currently stranded in Libya with no money or travel documents, some en route to Europe, are now to benefit from the voluntary return programme.
The programme already has successes to point to. "Mr C" from Accra, Ghana, got cold feet when the smuggler boat he had planned to take to Italy sank and its passengers drowned. His Accra family, having heard the news, urged him to return, which the IOM programme made possible. At home, an IOM reintegration helped him refurbishing his old lorry, and "Mr C" now transports goods in Accra, earning around US$ 250 a month.
Also "Mr SC" from Bamako, Mali, decided he needed to return after he broke his leg working as an illegal immigrant in Tripoli, thus having no rights to receive medical assistance. The penniless Malian was helped home and given a small grant to start a tailoring business. The Bamako business in addition to "Mr SC" now employs three people.
With these early successes, IOM has gained increased confidence among stranded migrants, Libyan authorities and European donor countries. By now, 2,890 impoverished and abandoned migrants have been voluntarily returned to 23 African and Asian countries. A recent euro 600,000 additional funding from Italy empowers IOM to extend the programme.
"Providing reintegration assistance to migrants who opt for voluntary return is also paramount to help them come to terms with their failure," says Laurence Hart, IOM's Chief of Mission in Tripoli. "Furthermore, it encourages them to share some of their often traumatic experiences with others who consider calling up people smugglers to reach Europe not knowing that smuggling networks always show total disrespect for the fundamental rights of migrants," Mr Hart adds.
Earlier this year, IOM opened the first humanitarian centre for stranded migrants in Tripoli to provide vulnerable migrants with medical assistance, support and counselling. The centre, part of a broader project co-financed by the European Union (EU) and Italy, also offers temporary accommodation for up to 40 people and is accepted by Libyan authorities.
With some 4,000 kilometres of land and 1,700 kilometres of sea borders, Libya is both a transit and a destination country for migrants. Irregular migrants are drawn to Libya by the demand for unskilled labour and the strength of the local economy, and now number close to a million. Many remain stranded in transit, unable to get to Europe or to return home.
Earlier, Libyan authorities were notorious in involuntary returns of illegal migrants, including to fierce dictatorships such as Eritrea and in violation of international law. Now, cooperating closer with the UN refugee agency UNHCR, IOM and the EU, the government of Libya has softened its stands.
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