Khartoum — On Thursday, the Libyan authorities, in cooperation with the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), returned 170 Sudanese migrants as part of a voluntary repatriation programme.
The migrants were transported in an aircraft chartered by the IOM from Tripoli's Mitiga Airport to Khartoum. They had entered Libya illegally in search of work or, as most of them do, in an attempt to reach Italy by sea.
Migrants who attempt journeys to Europe but are intercepted by Libya's coastguard or whose boats capsize in the Mediterranean are rescued and sent to detention centres across the country.
The IOM gives them the option of returning home. Twice a week, the international organisation organises travel documents and private aircraft to various destinations in Africa for those who wish to return or are held in Libyan detention centres.
Thursday's flight was the first to return Sudanese nationals.
The IOM programme is one of the few ways the European Union can fund action inside conflict-torn Libya. Other options have been held-up by poor security, political resistance, and the lack of government control in Libya, where powerful militias and smuggling networks act with impunity.
"The IOM scheme is meant to offer a way out to those stuck in Libya without money, work, or a means to move on," Othman Belbeisi, IOM's chief of mission for Libya, told Reuters in March this year. "It is voluntary, with each migrant interviewed individually and able to change their mind at any time."
The organisation flew 2,775 African migrants back last year, and is expecting to increase that number to between 7,000 and 10,000 this year, with new European funding. Since the overthrow of the Gaddafi regime in 2011, the organisation has repatriated more than 11,000 migrants from Libya to their countries of origin.