By Sami Zaptia.
London, 15 July 2016:
The UN’s International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported that yesterday it had organized a voluntary repatriation charter flight from Libya to Guinea for 173 stranded Guinean migrants.
The operation, in close cooperation with Guinea’s Embassy in Libya and the Libyan Department for Combating Illegal Migration (DCIM), was the latest in a series of voluntary return flights for migrants from Libya to West Africa. It was funded by the Swiss Secretariat for Migration and the European Union, the IOM said.
The migrants, many of whom had spent months in the Abu Sleem detention centre near Tripoli, flew back to Conakry from Tripoli’s Mitiga International Airport. Before leaving the centre, IOM staff gave them clean clothes, shoes and hygiene kits. Several migrants told the IOM that they had endured harsh conditions in the centre, with little food and water, the IOM reported.
Frank, aged 28, who has scoliosis (severe curvature of the spine) told the IOM that after four long agonizing months in Libya, all he wanted was to return home. “I had USD 400 with me when I arrived and a few pictures of my mother and other family members back home. When I was caught by the police, I was taken to prison. I never received my belongings back. I don’t care so long as I get to leave and return home to my family,” the IOM quoted him as saying.
Fatima, a mother of two – a four-year-old boy and a two-year-old girl – told IOM that she has been stranded in Libya unable to leave since the death of her husband, who had been working in Tripoli. Even though she was not one of the Abu Saleem detainees, she found it difficult to survive with no work and no income to support her children. “I never want to return to Libya again,” she told the IOM.
Ibrahim, 18, had wanted to go to Italy and find work there. After being arrested in the city of Zawia, 40km west of Tripoli, he was detained for 8 weeks until the IOM facilitated his release, along with 38 other detained migrants, a day prior to their departure to Guinea.
On arrival in Conakry, all the returnees were given money for onward transport to their final destinations. Twenty of the most vulnerable returnees will be given reintegration assistance, the IOM report said.
Meanwhile, in its latest update, the IOM reported an estimated 239,923 migrants and refugees entered Europe by sea in 2016 up to 13 July, arriving mostly in Italy and Greece.
It said that so far this year an estimated 2,933 deaths have been recorded, compared with 1,838 in the first six months of 2015, and 1,906 up to 13 July last year.
In Greece, the Coast Guard has rescued 49 migrants from three incidents off Lesbos and Kos since July 12th. In one tragedy this week involving a boat believed to be carrying 13 migrants, four people – a man, a woman and two children – died. Another three are missing and six were rescued.
Meanwhile in Italy over 8,900 migrants have been rescued and brought ashore since 1 July. On Tuesday four corpses were found in the hull of a boat after a rescue in the Channel of Sicily. One of them was a child.
On Thursday Italian authorities announced they had concluded their operation to raise a shipwrecked trawler that sank in April 2015 off Libya. Italy said its navy had extracted 458 bodies from inside the vessel since it was brought to shore last month, in addition to the remains of 169 victims found on or around the wreck in recent months.
Additionally, Italy reported 48 more bodies were recovered and brought to shore after its divers returned to the sea bed. There are 28 known survivors of the shipwreck. According to the Italian navy, there are now 675 confirmed victims of the tragedy, with the possibility that more remains may never be recovered.