Tripoli – One hundred and eighteen Ghanaian migrants stranded in Libya due to COVID-19 restrictions boarded a flight home on Thursday 20 August 2020, IOM’s first Voluntary Humanitarian Return Programme movement since a temporary hold began five months ago.  

Among those aboard the charter to Accra were seven women, three children and two infants.  

All were medically screened by IOM prior to departure and received personal protective equipment like masks, gloves and hand sanitizers, and psychosocial assistance. The Organization will continue to provide support during a 14-day quarantine period in Ghana and later, reintegration assistance. 

“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 regardless of the fact that 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.”  

COVID-19 has added a whole new layer of complexity to the VHR, a critical lifeline for migrants wishing to return home since flighs began in 2015 says programme manager Ashraf Hassan.   

In the face of sweeping COVID-19 mobility restrictions and intensified conflict in Libya, IOM has received many new requests for VHR assistance. More than 2,300 migrants have registered for voluntary return to their countries of origin since March.  

“We continue to operate a hotline for migrants 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 Hassan. “IOM Libya will strive to sustain its protection-based VHR and reintegration assistance as a viable option for all stranded migrants.”  

In the first quarter of 2020, IOM’s VHR programme helped 1,466 stranded migrants return home from Libya. Nearly 9,800 migrants returned to 34 countries of origin across Africa and Asia last year through the same programme.  

“I am pleased with the professionalism and commitment of the IOM staff involved in this operation from the registration of our nationals to the last border checkpoint,” said HE Dr. S. Adotey Anum, Ambassador of Ghana to Libya, overseeing the boarding of migrants at the Mitiga Airport.  

“It’s taken us over four months of communications and follow-ups including medical screenings. The support from IOM medical team was quite exceptional. I trust we will continue this cooperation.” 

Conflict and COVID-19 have severely impacted the livelihoods of migrants in Libya. According to an assessment conducted through IOM’s Displacement Tracking Matrix, migrants in 93 per cent of assessed locations reported they were negatively affected by movement restrictions, chiefly in the loss of employment and more than one-third are estimated to be food insecure.  

The charter flight was made possible thanks to the European Union funding through the EU-IOM Joint Initiative for Migrant Protection and Reintegration, the first comprehensive programme of its kind to save lives, protect and assist migrants along key migration routes in Africa. The programme was launched in December 2016 with funding from the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa (EUTF).