The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) revealed that 118 Ghanaian migrants stranded in Libya due to COVID-19 restrictions boarded a flight to Ghana. The plane was chartered by IOM’s first Voluntary Humanitarian Return Programme movement since a temporary hold began five months ago.
All migrants were medically screened by IOM before departure and received personal protective equipment such as masks, gloves and hand sanitizers, as well as psychosocial assistance, IOM reported.
Among those aboard Thursday’s charter to Accra were seven women, three children, and two infants.
IOM will continue to provide support during a 14-day quarantine period in Ghana and later, it will continue to assist the migrants’ reintegration in their home country.
“To pay the tuition fees for my children back home in Ghana, I came to Libya and worked to raise enough money,” said Rogerson Babatagre, 47, a construction worker who was seriously injured in a traffic accident.
“As I can no longer work like before, I decided to return to my country although I did not earn enough money for my children’s tuition fees. But that is life. Now I’m very happy that I will see my family after seven years. It was very hard to stay far from them under this situation.”
Before the Libyan authorities closed the country’s borders as a precautionary measure against COVID-19, IOM had been running a Voluntary Humanitarian Return (VHR) program that arranges the return of illegal immigrants stranded in Libya to their countries of origin.
“We continue to operate a hotline for immigrants and to work very closely with embassies, the Libyan authorities, and governmental entities in countries of origin to help people return home and rebuild their lives,” said the program manager Ashraf Hassan.
In the first quarter of 2020, IOM’s VHR program helped 1,466 stranded immigrants return home from Libya, the statement said. Nearly 9,800 migrants returned to 34 countries of origin across Africa and Asia last year through the same program.
Libya has been marred in violence between competing forces, militias, and extremists since the toppling and killing of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. This conflict triggered a wave of illegal migrants who want to cross the Mediterranean from the country towards Europe.