29 February 2016

Libya: Burkina Faso Migrants Flee Violence-Racked Libya

Hundreds of Burkinabé migrants who have been living in Libya for decades are returning home, fleeing the desperate humanitarian situation that has been exacerbated by the conflict. Last Thursday the International Office of Migration (IOM) evacuated 117 people. Since December over 500 migrants have gone back to Burkina Faso.

Dene Moussa, a 35-year old Burkinabé migrant, recently returned home on a charter flight from Tripoli provided by the International Office of Migration (IOM).

A trader by profession, he told RFI that he decided to go back because he was disappointed with Libya.

"I didn't like the road I'd taken to go to Libya. I was arrested several times and even spent 18 days in one detention centre with only bread and water for food," he said.

Moussa is one of several migrants choosing to return to Burkina Faso voluntarily. In the past three months, the country has registered an uptick of more than 500 returnees.

"For the people evacuated or returned this year, many of them had a stable job but because of the current security situation many of them lost their job and they had no means to go back home, so they asked for the IOM's assitance," Othman Belbeisi, head of the IOM's office in Libya, told RFI.

Most migrants like Moussa were lured to Libya by the prospect of economic opportunity. But their dreams of prosperity were dashed when the country fell apart following the fall of Moamer Kadhafi in 2011.

With the eruption of fighting between rival militias, migrants have increasingly become pawns in a game of power and wealth played by Libya's different stakeholders.

"They are at the hands of criminal networks who use them to finance their military activities," Karim Nataba, a Libyan blogger and writer told RFI, as more human trafficking abuses are reported.

"Migrants are badly treated by human traffickers who use them as a simple money making tool. But the situation is also delicate for African migrants especially, because many are considered as mercenaries by both camps in the fighting," he added.

The numerous militias that control Libyan territory are widely believed to be involved in the human traffic business, using it as a springboard to increase their political standing and as an excuse to "arrest" illegal migrants, or sometimes just black people.

Belbeisi, however deplores the fact that many of these migrants are falling through the cracks.

"If you are a displaced national, you can find a family member, any local council or goverment to support you, but as a migrant you are not considered a priority," he points out.

This makes the prospect of returning home a sweeter experience. When migrants do return, they are met by officials of the IOM in their destination country and given a small grant to rebuild their lives from scratch.

Funding for the IOM's voluntary return programme is supported by the European Union and governments like Italy's. But more help is needed, reckons Abdelrahmane Diop, IOM chief coordinator in Ouagadougo.

"So far we have been able to help only 56 out of 312 migrants, we need to mobilise more resources to help more migrants return from Libya," he said.

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