LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) — Hundreds of West African migrants who had been stranded in Libya are returning home as worried governments repatriate them amid outrage over slave auctions.
Another 164 migrants returned to Nigeria early Friday, the latest group to be repatriated with help from the European Union and the International Organization for Migration. The first 504 migrants from neighboring Niger, including children, returned home Wednesday, part of an expected mass voluntary evacuation of 3,850 over the coming days, the U.N. migration agency said.
The African Union aims to return 20,000 migrants from Libya over the next six weeks after international condemnation of slave auctions in Libya revealed by recent CNN footage. Between 400,000 and 700,000 migrants are thought to be in more than 40 detention camps across the chaotic north African country, often under inhumane conditions, the AU Commission chairman has said.
Europe has struggled to stem the flow of tens of thousands of Africans making the dangerous crossing of the Mediterranean. But many Africans still make the journey, risking death and abuse, saying pressure that includes high unemployment and climate change leave them little choice.
African and European leaders last week drew up an emergency evacuation plan for migrants, agreeing to airlift at least 3,800 stranded in detention centers across Libya.
Several West African nations including Gambia, Cameroon and Ivory Coast have begun bringing their citizens home.
A flight with 167 migrants, including seven children, returned to Guinea on Thursday, the U.N. migration agency said. Some of them reported beatings while in detention centers in Libya.
“I spent three months in prison. I do not know the name because we never went out, only for beating sessions because I did not have money,” one of the migrants told the U.N. agency. “I have a lot of pain in my upper body.”
Organizations including Amnesty International and Doctors Without Borders have criticized Europe, saying its primary aim is to close the often deadly smuggling route across the Mediterranean and leave hundreds of thousands of migrants trapped in Libya and at risk of horrific abuses.