Voluntary Humanitarian Return Programme Offers Lifeline for 60,000 Migrants in Libya

Tripoli – Since 2015, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) has assisted 60,000 migrants in Libya to return to their country in a safe and dignified manner through the Voluntary Humanitarian Return (VHR) Programme. The initiative has provided a critical lifeline to stranded migrants from 46 different countries across Africa and Asia who wish to return home and rebuild their lives.
“IOM has been offering voluntary humanitarian return assistance since 2015. This support is of increasing importance given the alarming reports of human rights violations against migrants in Libya,” said Federico Soda, IOM Libya Chief of Mission. “Providing access to humane and dignified return and reintegration allows those stranded or detained in Libya to exercise their right to return home and empowers migrants to make an informed decision, even in the face of limited options.”
About 47 per cent of returnees assisted through IOM’s VHR programme were in detention centres while the remainder were living in urban settings. Since the outbreak of COVID-19 in March 2020, IOM has seen an uptick in requests from people in urban locations.
In the last two years, mobility restrictions prompted temporary suspensions of IOM’s operations and created a backlog of migrants waiting to return home. IOM has since scaled up the number of movements to alleviate further delays. Yesterday’s milestone charter from Mitiga airport in Tripoli to Lagos, Nigeria marked IOM’s 74th humanitarian flight since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic on 11 March 2020.
The public health crisis has significantly impacted the livelihoods of many migrants in Libya, many of whom originally left their country in search of better opportunities like Olawale Oluwatobi. At 26 years old, he left Nigeria to find work in Libya in 2016.
“Nigeria-Agadez-Sebha was a long, frightening journey full of dangers,” he said about the trip to Libya with other migrants. “Eight days in the desert roads – thirsty, pale faces and full of perplexity. They just wanted to get to Libya, escaping for the better.”
Oluwatobi reached Benghazi where he was able to earn a living and provide for his family in Nigeria. Then COVID-19 emerged and devastated the local economy. He found himself with little work and sharing one bedroom with 10 other friends. Once he learned about IOM’s VHR programme, he quickly explored the available options to return home in a safer and more dignified way than his experience going to Libya.
“I expressed my desire to return [through IOM] because there was no other way to return other than the desert,” he said before opting to take a humanitarian flight back to Nigeria in November 2021. “I would rather die in Libya than repeat this way back through the desert.”
IOM assists migrants like Oluwatobi to rebuild their lives once they return home through access to social protection and services, psychosocial assistance, vocational training, referrals to financial services and other support needed.
The Voluntary Humanitarian Return programme is funded by the European Union under the EU-IOM Joint Initiative for Migrant Protection and Reintegration and through the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs' Migration Fund.

For more information, please contact Liz Lizama at IOM Libya, Tel.+1 202 716 8820, Email:

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