(HN, March 3 2011) - As distressed migrants, most of them from developing Middle Eastern and Sub-Saharan African countries, flee to Libya's border crossings, the numbers entering neighbouring countries is reaching close to 200,000.
However some African officials admit that many of those they have been forced to repatriate are nationals who entered Libya illegally and are undocumented - in effect, a vulnerable sub-class of migrants who are at extreme risk.
Officials and evacuees interviewed by the regional media say that they were in Libya in the process of seeking passage to Europe.
Some quoted in Nigerian newspapers said they have variously spent between four and 17 years in Libya.
The Ghana News Agency said many of the 10,000 or so Ghanians stranded in Libya were "illegal immigrants and undocumented."
Indicative of the diversity of those fleeing Libya is that one of the people evacuated was professional boxer Bash Ali, who said he was in Tripoli for medical treatment.
Upon returning to Nigeria he was quoted by the Daily Trust Newspaper as saying: “I am proud to be a Nigerian… I am proud of this encouraging exercise. Home is home… and home is sweet. Nothing is more comforting than to be among your people at home."
Nigeria's National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) said yesterday that over 1,000 Nigerians are still stranded in Libya, with the same figure already evacuated.
The rescued Nigerians hinted at some surprise of having their government step up to the plate in this crisis.
A spokesman for the repatriated Nigerians, Chief Festus Koiki said: "For the first time in the history of Nigeria, the Federal Government has demonstrated its ability and capability to address the plights of distressed Nigerians in the Diaspora, which is unprecedented.”
Nigeria has had strained relations with Libya for the past decade.
Aid agencies say they are worried for thousands of refugees, asylum-seekers, and irregular migrants still inside Libya and in circumstances of considerable danger of reprisal attacks.
According to a report from the Ghana Embassy in Libya, a number of Nigerian nationals suffered such reprisal attacks, the Ghana News Agency reported.
At least two sub-Saharan Africans are already reported to have been lynched in Benghazi on suspicion of being mercenaries for Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, others fear being hunted down by insurgents, a report by UN OCHA released today said.
"With these new waves of uprising and conflict, there is and will continue to be massive new displacement. The world needs to address this moment. We have to give people safe passage, evacuation if needed, and ensure they have asylum. We don't want to look back and find their deaths are on our hands," UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie said.
Meanwhile, transit camps operated by relief agencies are said to be bursting at the seams as an endless stream of migrants heads towards border crossings in the East with Egypt, in the West with Tunisia, in the South with Niger and towards the port in Benghazi.
The UN said today about 100,000 Africans may try to cross from Libya into poverty-stricken Niger in coming weeks, placing a huge strain on the land-locked country.
Reports indicate more than 50 flights, using commercial and military aircraft from a handful of countries, will be operated today to evacuate the migrants.
Separately, The Eldershave called on the international community to maintain pressure on Colonel Muammar Gaddafi to step down as the only way to end the bloodshed in Libya.
Welcoming the strong resolution adopted unanimously by the UN Security Council to try to halt the violent repression in Libya, they urged the rapid implementation of agreed measures including an arms embargo, targeted financial sanctions and travel bans.
The Elders also underlined the need for swift humanitarian assistance to those in need, including people fleeing the violence.
Ultimately, the Elders say, it is Gaddafi's departure from power, along with that of key members of his regime, that will forestall further bloodshed.
The Chair of The Elders, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, said: “This is a moral universe – the Libyan people have right on their side and I am confident that they will succeed in their quest for freedom. I admire their courage in facing up to a leader who has in effect declared a brutal war on his own people to cling onto power. Gaddafi must recognise the truth – that the people of Libya are demanding change and he cannot stand in their way.”
- HUMNEWS staff, files