GENEVA, Switzerland, December 20, 2013/African Press Organization (APO)/ — Upon request of the Malian Government, IOM carried out last week an operation to assist the voluntary return of 163 Malians stranded in Libya for several months.
Most of the stranded migrants in this group had initially left Mali for Algeria. With the money earned working in the Northern African country they jointly bought a boat to make their way towards Lampedusa in late July, an island known as a prime transit point for migrants wanting to enter Europe, particularly those originating from Africa.
On their way to Lampedusa, the migrants got lost at sea until they were rescued by a Gibraltar ship in Libyan national waters and transported to Tripoli.
Migrants were transferred to the Alhamra center in Libya (80 km away from Tripoli), in the wait of returning home.
“The plight of these stranded migrants had been weighing on us for some time, and IOM Tripoli was keen to see them safely home,” says Othman Belbeisi, IOM’s Chief of Mission in Libya.
IOM ensured that the migrants, who lost most of their belongings during their difficult journeys, were returned with as much support as possible. IOM purchased and provided each returnee with clothes and shoes. The eldest of the returnees was 49 years of age, and the group included also four minors. The group was accompanied by an IOM operational escort and an IOM medical doctor from Tripoli to Bamako, the latter to provide support to a migrant suffering from a medical condition.
“I cannot believe that after all these months of struggle, I will be going home to my family,” said one of the migrants expressing his great excitement prior to getting on the plane.
The return of these migrants took weeks of preparation to ensure that the returnees were fit to travel, had the necessary documents and were taken home in a dignified and safe manner.
Upon arrival, the migrants were welcomed by the Malian Government. The General Directorate for Civil Protection (DGPC) in coordination with IOM Mali moved the migrants to a reception center in Bamako where they were provided with food, health and shelter.
After having been registered by IOM and DGPC, the migrants received assistance from IOM psychologists and protection specialists. Telephones were made available for the migrants to contact their families.
Out of the four minors identified within the group, two were reunited with their families upon arrival. The Malian National Directorate for the Promotion of Children and the Family (DNPEF) agreed to temporary guardianship of the two other minors until they are reunited with their families.
Transportation to the final destinations is now being arranged by the Malian Government.
“IOM would like to ensure that the returnees are not made vulnerable to exploitation or additional dangerous journeys, by providing them with economic options and stability to continue their lives,” said Belbeisi. “But we need additional financial support to provide reintegration assistance to the migrants and their families.”
This is also a wish shared by the returnees. “Reintegration assistance would really help us to re-establish our lives. If there is more help in Mali, not many people would leave to look for work,” said one of the returnees on his way home.
IOM works in close partnership with the Libyan Government to assist migrants in need. This important return effort was made possible with funding support under IOM Libya’s programmes which are funded by the Italian Government and the European Union.