The Comptroller General of the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS), Mohammed Babandide, has disclosed that about 16,387 Nigerians were repatriated worldwide in 2017.
The immigration boss also disclosed that from the number, 5, 908 deportees were from Libya 485 comprising 3,498 males, 2,784 and 211 children. Also in the same year under review, 3,836 Nigerians were repatriated from Saudi Arabia while other countries especially South Africa also repatriated 6,643, bringing the total number of repatriated Nigerians to 16, 387.
Babandide stated this on Monday in Abuja during a World Press briefing organised by the Federal Government delegation who returned from a diplomatic and technical assessment of the migration situation in Libya.
He explained that there were different categories of repatriated Nigerians comprising illegal migrants, trafficked persons, smuggled persons, as well as regular migrants who were erroneously taken from the streets and taken to the camp from where they were repatriated.
On how the NIS was able to verify the true identity of the victims without a forensic or DNA tests, Babandide said, “We have experts who confirm the identity of such persons. Some of them had passports and through their finger prints, we were able to confirm their identity”.
He went further to state that there are experts who interviewed them and from their tongue, language and description of their towns, they were able to deduce that they are truly Nigerians. He also cited an example where some Nigerians are claiming citizenship of other countries to evade repatriation but added that the Immigration personnel were able to puncture their tricks.
He also added that the Immigration Service will continue to beef up security across the boarders while all Nigerians are encourage to educate the youths on the dangers of illegal migration. The Federal Commissioner for Refugees, Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons, Sadiya Umar Farouk, in her contribution, said that her Agency will concentrate on the integration and rehabilitation of the repatriated persons, adding that releasing them to the public will create more social problems.
She said that the returnees needed to be counselled and equipped with relevant skills to begin a new life, maintaining that the Commission has all it takes to rehabilitate and reintegrate the affected persons. The delegation was led by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, the Comptroller General of NIS, Mohammed Babadinde, the Special Assistant to the President on Foreign Affairs and Diaspora Hon. Abike Dabiri, the Director General of National Agency for the Prohibition of Traffick in Persons (NAPTIP) Julie Okah-Donli and the Federal Commissioner for Refugees, Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons, Sadiya Umar Farouk, as well as some technical experts.
Meanwhile, the Federal Government has stressed its resolve to ensure prompt and speedy repatriation of all Nigerians trapped in several refugee camps in Libya.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyema stated this on Monday in Abuja while briefing journalists on the current situations of Nigerians who were in different refugee camps in Libya. The Minister said that an initial figure showed that about 6,000 Nigerians were trapped in the camps but when the delegation visited five of the several camps, it became obvious that the actual number was far more than the projected figure.
According to him, President Muhammadu Buhari’s order to the delegation was to negotiate for the evacuation of all Nigerians, maintaining that the President made available all the resources required form the task.
The delegation he said, was required to surmount all the challenges including political, diplomatic negotiations, immigration protocols, adding that the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) and Federal Commissioner for Refugees, Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons took charge of rehabilitation while National Agency For the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) took care of the trafficking issues and prosecution of cartels.
He said, “Libya at the moment is almost a failed state. The central government recognized by UN does not have full control of the entire country as there are terrorists groups in control of some of the regions. “Out of the great respect Nigeria enjoys and after the CNN story, the Libyan government became defensive and want to dissociate themselves from the narratives.
“The President welcomed us and also dissociated the country from the crime, assuring us that everything will be at our disposal to accomplish the task. “Our first task was to visit the centres where they were held. The first camp were housing 350 young Nigerians. They sang the national anthem and pledge and were excited to see us. The girls in the camps informed us that there were other secret camps and we insisted that we needed to go in, there we located another 350 Nigerians.
“The Libyan authorities were not eager to take us to those camps because the refugees are economic assets and they have reasons not to let them go”.
He also explaines that in another camp, the delegation insisted on speaking with the Nigerian migrants alone without the Libyan officials but after much negotiations they were given the go ahead.
He also narrated that in one of the camps they saw several Nigerians who were victims of trafficking with one of the trafficker also arrested and facing prosecution. On his meeting with the Nigerian Community engaged in legitimate businesses in Libya, he said , “We met with the Nigerian community and they told us that we should talk to the government of Libya because sometimes they are arrested and their papers destroyed and then termed illegal migrants. “Some were reluctant to return to the country because they were arrested on the street and had properties but after some negotiations, they were allowed access to their properties”.
He further informed that some Nigerians were employed as officials in the camps and they tried to give us a false impression that all is well. According to the Minister, part of the mission of the delegation was to ensure that the refugees were well treated and to ensure that those who want to go home were allowed to do so.
Onyema also stated that there were reports that some migrants were taking out in the night as labourers and slavery while the girls were used as commercial sex workers, an allegation, he said the Libyan government denied, threatening to deal with any government official involved in the illegality. Giving an update of the extend of the evacuation, he reported that 545 Nigerians returned to Port Harcourt International Airport on Monday.
He said that the rehabilitation phase is another huge challenge but was optimistic that government will reintegrate them and eventually use them as ambassadors so that others will be deterred. “We also need to strengthen our boarders and charge security agencies to clamp down on all criminals involved in this international criminality” Onyeama added.
In his submission, The Ditector General of National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), Mustafa Maihaja, reported that government has approved the evacuation of the refugees to the Port Harcourt camp while medical services will be provided by the University of Port Harcourt.
“There is a technical team still in Libya to identify all Nigerian trapped in Libya and then bring them back safely. “They will profiled them to ascertain their criminal history by relevant security agencies. The Director General of NAPTIP, Julie Okah-Donli, also reported that the fact finding mission went to identify, repatriate and profile all Nigerians trapped in Libya.
She said, “Almost all of them are victims of trafficking but we shall identify those who are really victims of trafficking, bring them to our shelters, give them medical care, rehabilitate them with skills and finally prosecute the criminals.
She also disclosed that NAPTIP does not just concern itself with rehabilitation and reintegration of persons but ensures that the traffickers are prosecuted. She said that 369 human trafficking cartels have been arrested and successfully prosecuted since 2011.