Nigerian immigrants, currently being evacuated from Libya by the Federal Government, have been narrating the harrowing ordeals they suffered during the sojourn in the North African country.
Libyan returnees being attended to by officials at the Hajj Camp in Port Harcourt . Photo: Nwankpa Chijioke
Some of the estimated 5,027 migrants from states across the country have been trickling in through the Port Harcourt International Airport in an exercise coordinated by the National Emergency Management Agency, NEMA.
The first batch of the victims, numbering over 483 persons, had, on Sunday, January 7, arrived the airport at about 4:55 pm on board Max Air. Less than 24 hours after, 446 returnees, comprising of over 314 males, 117 females and 15 children, arrived the airport at about 11:45 pm. On Saturday, January 13, 560 persons arrived in yet another batch. In essence, almost 1,500 of the 5,027 immigrants are back in the country.
Post-traumatic stress disorder
Programme Officer on Health Interventions for the returnees, who is of the Federal Ministry of Health, Dr. Doubra Emuren, expressed concern about the post-traumatic stress disorder that they might have.
He stated, “We have already identified some of these cases from Libya and we brought them down, so we are taking them to the University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital for immediate attention.
“Moving forward, I think government is going to take care of the rehabilitation for all the persons before they are reintegrated into the society.
“We are going to carry out the clinical assessment, identification and categorization of everybody as directed by the Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole, and the coordinator of this exercise, Dr. Ngozi Azuru.”
A lady, who came back home with the third batch of the returnees told Sunday Vanguard that she was sold to Libya by a Libyan – based Nigerian woman, One Mrs. Stella, who forced her into prostitution.
She narrated; “One Mrs. Stella, from Umuahia, was the person who took me to Libya. She told me she would take me to Europe, but what she told me while in Nigeria was totally different from what she did in the end.
“When we got to Libya she told me that I should start prostitution before my papers are ready. She said I should be doing prostitution in Libya to pay the money she invested in moving me from Nigeria. She claimed she had spent over N5 million.
“I told her that I had not done prostitution before and that I will not do it. She called some boys; they came, beat me and shaved my hair. They locked me and many others in a room. We were dehumanized.
“Anybody that needs a slave worker comes and they sell you to the person. They forced me to serve in an hospital as a cleaner. The moment I finish cleaning and sweeping the hospital, the owner of the place comes and locks me up again in a room. I spent over three years moving from one forced labour to another. I am happy the Nigerian government has brought me back safely.”
Christopher Oliha, from Edo State, who returned with the second batch, said he and fellow Nigerian migrants were kidnapped when they journeyed to work in Libya and were asked to call their relatives back home in Nigeria to transfer money to pay their ransom.
Oliha said several Nigerians, hoping to make huge money when they succeed in their desperate relocation to Europe, now had to borrow money from friends and family to pay for their freedom in Libyan prisons. He thanked the Federal Government and individuals who contributed to get them get back home.
‘We travelled through Sahara for 10 days to get to Europe’
Omoh Eteh, another returnee from Edo, narrated: “Before I left Nigeria, I was a tanker driver but the money I was being paid was too small compared to family challenges. I am married but I didn’t tell my wife of the journey.
“It all started when a friend came to me and said we should travel to Europe. I told him I did not have money to make it. He told me it will not take much money because with N700, 000 we will be there.
“He did not tell me the unthinkable suffering involved. I was motivated to go on the journey when I saw the pictures of one of my friends on Facebook in Europe. He claimed he made it to Europe within two weeks; so my friend asked that we should give it a try.
“I met my elder sister to borrow some money in the guise that I wanted to use it to open business for my wife. She pleaded with her revolving financial contribution group to displace another member who should have benefited before her and she got me N400, 000. I then gathered N650, 000, and added my personal savings to it.
“I thought the journey would be easy. But when we went from Kano to Niger to Zidan, I began to have doubts. My guide told me he never anticipated the experience was like that. When we got to Agadez, we spent a month and two weeks. At that point, my fears began to grow, but then coming back to Nigeria had become a more difficult option.
“We got to a point where we entered over 18 Hilux vans each carrying about 30 persons. When we entered Sahara Desert, the water we had thought would last for two days finished. They told us we will spend two days but we ended spending ten days in the desert and many people started dying.
“The harsh sun baked and shrunk many persons. Before we got to Tomko Desert, there were only 10 of the 18 Hilux vans, the remaining eight had missed their way and all the migrants in them along with their drivers died as we later found out. At times when we sleep in the morning, we would wake up to see that some persons amongst us had disappeared.
“We arrived in Libya, camped in a place called Sopata. There we got to know that migrants entering boats that will take them to Europe were being intercepted by Arabs. They call it Kalabus. We stayed there for two months.
“Later they decided not to put us in boat, they now concentrated on using us to make money. If you don’t give them money when they demand, they kill you. Later they put all of us in prison and started torturing and selling us.
“We are happy that God used President Muhammadu Buhari to save us. We thank Buhari for coming to save us. Our experience in the prison was terrible. I am happy we are free and back to our land.”
Eghiteme Victor, another migrant, said: “I am very happy I am back in my home country. I suffered in Libya for over two years. My father did not even know where I was. I thank God and the Federal Government for bringing me back to my fatherland safely.
“For us the men, you were beaten most of the time; what we suffered is nothing compared to what most of the women went through. What they did to the women, they will never be able to tell the story honestly.”
A 19-year-old returnee from Delta State, Gabriel Precious, who spoke with Sunday Vanguard, said she was told by her ‘madam’ that they were travelling to Italy only to end up in Libya after several attempts to cross the Mediterranean Sea failed.
She said in Libya, they were forcefully taken from their home, stripped, severely beaten for no reason and ordered to request for money from their people back home in Nigeria before they could be released. She said she decided to return home because blacks were regarded as nothing and being killed daily
Meanwhile, the delegation on the interventionist trip to Libya to return the Nigerian migrants included the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama; Director General, NEMA, Mustapha Maihaja; Federal Commissioner for Refugee, Sadiya Faruk; DG, National Agency for the Prohibition of trafficking in Persons, NAPTIP, among others.
In the team which received the returnees in Port Harcourt was the Secretary to the Government of Rivers State, Kenneth Kobani, alongside officials of Nigerian Immigration Service.
Addressing the returnees, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Onyeama, urged them not to lose hope, stressing that government would cater for their needs.
Onyeama noted that the returnees, from different parts of the country, were rescued from Libyan prisons under pitiable conditions, stating that government had the willingness to save its citizens under threat anywhere in the world.
“We know that most of you were trafficked and sold to slavery. Government will give you a new life. You will be trained in different skills so you can live happily again. Government will make things work for you so that other youths will not see reasons to leave the shores of this country to suffer this kind of hardship outside”, he said.
Commander of the Evacuation Operation, Air Commodore Paul Ohemu, revealed that six critical medical cases were discovered among the second batch of returnees, adding that two of the cases were depression related.
Responding to the claim that some Nigerians in Libya had refused to take advantage of the opportunity to return, Ohemu said the team was more interested in Nigerians in detention camps, in depression or distressing situations. The operation, he noted, was voluntary and that there were Nigerians resident in Libya legitimately and not being subjected to inhuman treatment.
Also speaking during his visit to the returnees’ camp in Port Harcourt, the Minister of Health, Prof Adewole Isaac, said it was the duty of the health sector to look after the well-being of the returnees.
Adewole said his visit was to access what was being done and find ways to make things better for them, noting that government brought them back home to build hope in them. The first step, he explained, was to access them after which those ill will be taken care of.