Second Chances: Nigerian Returnees Get Helping Hand to Start Over Again

In early June 2016, IOM Libya received a call from Michael, a Nigerian national who told IOM that his brother John was being held at a detention centre in Libya. With nowhere else to turn, Michael asked IOM to find his brother.

IOM eventually located John at the Az Zawiyah detention centre, where he had ended up after having spent five months in Libya, during which he also spent two weeks at Abu Salim detention centre.


John, a 42-year-old street vendor and father of two, decided to travel from southern Nigeria to Libya with one aim in mind: a better life in Italy for his family. He met a person that convinced him to pay USD 1,750 as a down payment, after which he was due to pay EUR 2,000 when he reached Italy.

Without any hesitation John agreed. He crossed Agadez in Niger, Al Qatrun in southern Libya, on to Sabha and then Brak beach and Bani Walid, until he arrived to the final destination, Sabratah, 60 kilometres west of Tripoli. Here he spent two months in a connection house with other migrants.

Back in May 2016, John and 24 other migrants had attempted the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean Sea on a rubber boat. Four days into the crossing, their boat was rescued by what they first thought was the Italian navy, however, to their disappointment they discovered that it was the Libyan navy and that they were still outside the Libyan coast.

After the rescue, John was taken to the detention centre. Together with the Directorate for Combatting Illegal Migration (DCIM), IOM was able to locate him and facilitate his release and on 16 June he was on board a voluntary humanitarian repatriation charter flight home to Nigeria.

Today John is back in his home city, he has no regrets and definitely doesn’t want to return to Libya. The scars on his bodies are permanent and haunting reminders of how his dream for a better life was shattered in the conflict-ridden North African country.

Now he is ready to move on and is quite optimistic about the future.

“I have faith in God that my return to my country will bring a lot of good things for me and my family,” he told IOM. Thanks to the IOM support, he is in the process of opening a store selling electronic goods, including mobile phones. With the assistance of IOM’s reintegration program he is hoping to now establish a sustainable long-term business.

John is one of 356 returnees who have received reintegration support from IOM Libya in 2016. Twenty percent of an expected 2,400 returning migrants will also be provided with reintegration assistance.

This return program includes individual counselling and vulnerability screening, immediate direct assistance, assistance to obtain travel documents and other consular services, pre-departure health checks, coordination with countries of origin for specific assistance to returnees and victims of trafficking and arrival assistance and reintegration assistance.

Each returnee, entitled for reintegration assistance, is monitored during the initial stage of the assistance. After one month from inception of reintegration, the migrant is consulted via phone. In addition, after four months from inception of reintegration all returnees are also monitored on-site.

“It’s a privilege to be able to support the migrants’ reintegration to their societies and follow their stories and dreams,” explains IOM Libya’s Reintegration Focal Point Nadia Khlifi who took part of IOM Libya’s mission to Nigeria.


During the repatriation back to Nigeria, John also got to know other Nigerians who had left the country seeking better opportunities in Libya and beyond. One of them, 18-year-old Emmanuel, was detained for one and a half years, during which he spent time in up to five different detention centres. It was in one of these detention centres that he got to know of IOM’s voluntary return programme. Willing to return home, Emmanuel joined the same chartered flight to Lagos as John in June.

Before Emmanuel decided to try his luck in Libya, he used to work as a vegetable seller, now he wants to continue in this business and aims to spend his reintegration support on building a stock of vegetables and invest in the necessary equipment. He is happy to be back in his hometown and hopes to be able to grow his business.

*For safety reasons, all individuals’ names have been changed