Libyan authorities on Monday repatriated 456 Nigerians, officials said, part of a UN-backed voluntary return scheme as some North African countries see a spike in irregular migration.
The group, including 75 women and six children, received food and drinks from International Organization for Migration staff at Mitiga airport in Tripoli before boarding the plane, AFP correspondents said.
Interior Minister Imed Trabelsi, of the UN-recognised government based in the war-torn country’s west, met the migrants before their departure.
“We cannot bear the burden of clandestine migration alone” without international support, he told reporters at the airport.
He said that out of the group, “102 were intercepted at the border as they were trying to” cross between Libya and Tunisia.
The North African neighbours on August 10 agreed to share responsibility for providing shelter for hundreds of migrants stranded at their border, ending a month-long crisis triggered by mass expulsions of migrants by Tunis.
Some 2,000 migrants, primarily from sub-Saharan African countries, had been driven to the remote desert area of Ras Jedir by Tunisian authorities and left there to fend for themselves, according to witnesses, rights groups and UN agencies.
Since the start of July, at least 27 have been found dead in the border area and another 73 were missing, a humanitarian source told AFP earlier this month.
An official with Nigeria’s embassy in Tripoli said the group of 161 was “not forced back” home.
“We spoke to (them) and explained that migration is not bad… but you have to follow due process,” said embassy adviser Samuel Okeri.
“They are going back willingly. And as you can see, they are not sad but happy to go back to Nigeria. There is no place like home.”