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AU to bring back 20,000 migrants home from Libya

Nigerian returnees from Libya hand over their baggage tags to an official of National Emergency Management Agency after been process upon arrival at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos, Nigeria, on Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017. Hundreds of Nigerians arrived in Lagos, having been repatriated by the African Union. (AP)
ADDIS ABABA/NIAMEY: The African Union (AU) has upped its goal to repatriate stranded migrants from Libya, saying in a statement that it aims to bring 20,000 Africans home in the next six weeks.
Pressure has grown on the continental body and individual African states to get their citizens out of Libya after CNN broadcast a report showing black Africans being sold as slaves in the north African country.
The AU had earlier said it wanted to repatriate 15,000 migrants by the year’s end, but increased its goal after a task force — including AU, EU and UN officials — met earlier this week.
“The immediate focus of the task force will be on the repatriation, within the next six weeks, of the 20,000 migrants currently in identified government-controlled detention centers who have expressed the wish to leave Libya,” the AU said in a statement received Thursday.
The group is also working to organize consular services for stranded migrants and landing rights for airlines that can fly migrants out of Libya, the statement said.
Individual African countries have started their own repatriation programs, with Nigeria, the source of the majority of undocumented migrants trying to reach Europe from Libya, bringing home 144 people earlier this week.
Rwanda has also offered to take in as many as 30,000 migrants who have suffered abuse and slave-like conditions in Libya.
500 Nigers evacuated
Meanwhile, Niger has flown home more than 500 of its citizens from Libya as part of an urgent repatriation plan which will see up to 4,000 people evacuated, the Foreign Ministry has said.
“This evening, 504 of our fellow countrymen who were living in Libya have been brought back home,” said Foreign Minister Ibrahim Yacoubou who met them as they arrived at Niamey airport on Wednesday evening.
“There are thousands of others who are still in Libya and we will bring back everyone who wants to leave,” he said.
Interior Minister Bazoum Mohamed said buses had been chartered to ferry them back to their villages. Among those brought back home there was a tangible sense of relief.
Some 4,000 Niger nationals have already signed up to be brought home, the foreign ministry said, saying they would be brought back in a “rolling airlift.”
“I feel so relieved to have left that hell back there. Even though it was anarchy in Libya, we didn’t know that migrants were being sold, although ransom demands are rife,” said one of those who landed on Wednesday, who looked exhausted and did not give his name.
It is not the first time that Niamey has repatriated its nationals stranded in neighboring Libya.
Since the Qaddafi regime collapsed in 2011, Libya has fallen under the control of a network of armed groups and militias; the violence and anarchy contributing to the push by many migrants, some of whom have been there for years, to try and make the perilous sea crossing to Europe.
Over the past six years, around 250,000 people have returned home to Niger, fleeing the violence in Libya.
At the end of November, Niger’s President Mahamadou Issoufou called on the International Criminal Court to take up the case of African migrants being sold as slaves in Libya.
Agadez, the main city in central Niger, has become a revolving door for economic migrants seeking to reach Europe via Libya, winning notoriety as Africa’s people-smuggling capital.
Despite a government crackdown and increased security checks at the borders, aided by the EU, there is still a steady flow of migrants and traffickers passing through Niger.

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