Mohammad Motaher Hossin was only 10 years old when his father died, leaving him to grow up taking care of his five sisters and sick mother.
As a young man he worked in a grocery store and travelled from his village in the Noakhali region in the southeast of Bangladesh to the capital Dhaka every month on business before returning to his village. Life was a struggle supporting his mother, his wife and two daughters and, in search of better work options, he set off for Libya in 2012 – just after the Arab Spring protests of 2011, which would lead to conflict and continuing crisis in the country.
"When the situation in Libya was stable, I was working and gaining money and everything was good,” he said. “But then when the conflict started, I was afraid to die.”
Then COVID-19 lockdowns imposed in 2020 left Mohammad without work and no future in Libya. A friend told him the International Organization for Migration’s (IOM) Voluntary Humanitarian Return (VHR) programme was the way out.
“Finding a job after the crisis in Libya and during COVID-19 was the most challenging situation for me,” Mohammad said. “A friend of mine, who returned to Bangladesh with IOM, told me I could register to travel back home through the programme.”
On the eve of his return, he was excited. “I have been waiting for this flight since April. I have not seen my wife and children for nine years,” he said at Tripoli’s Mitiga airport where he joined 124 other Bangladeshi migrants on Tuesday for a VHR flight to Dhaka.
The flight, financed by the European Union, was the second within a week to return migrants to their country of origin since all humanitarian flights from Libya were suspended by the Ministry of Interior in August. The first departed from Misrata airport carrying 127 people safely to Banjul, The Gambia, on 22 October.
“Since 2015, more than 53,000 migrants have returned from Libya in a safe, legal and dignified manner through IOM’s VHR programme,” said IOM Libya Chief of Mission, Federico Soda. “For many, it is a critical lifeline and a chance to start again.”
Before departure, migrants receive health checks, pre-departure transportation assistance, counselling services and protection screening. They also receive personal protective equipment and are tested for COVID-19 before boarding. At their destination, IOM supports migrants with reintegration assistance to help them set up a brighter future. Mohammad hopes to benefit from this assistance and open a small grocery store like the one he left behind years earlier when he travelled to Libya.
EU Ambassador to Libya, José Sabadell said the resumption of VHR flights from Libya offers crucial help for the many migrants who have faced dire living conditions in detention centres and have registered to return home. “The VHR programme, with our partner IOM, provides them with the necessary assistance to return, reintegrate and build new livelihoods.”
“While The overall security situation in Libya is gradually improving it remains unstable and unsafe for many migrants. IOM, with support from the EU, is doing a tremendous job in assisting migrants who wish to return home; those are trapped, displaced and ill-fated in Libya,” said Bangladesh Ambassador to Libya, Major General Shamim-Uz-Zaman.
The VHR programme is possible through the generous contribution of the European Union and the Italian Government. The EU-IOM Joint Initiative, which was launched in December 2016 with the support of the European Union Emergency Trust Fund for Africa, brings together 26 African countries of the Sahel and Lake Chad region, the Horn of Africa, and North Africa, along with the European Union and IOM, around the goal of ensuring that migration is safer, more informed and better governed for both migrants and their communities.