No friends or family were waiting at Lagos airport’s cargo terminal when the flight touched down from Libya on a humid February night.
After descending the airplane’s steps, one of the passengers – visibly moved – knelt on the tarmac and kissed the ground before making the sign of the cross.
It was clear that for some of the 160 migrants on board the flight, reaching home was a blessing – but it was a mixed one. Life in Libya had been brutal and dangerous, and the migrants coming home had spent months or more often years in prisons and detention centres. But for many of the returnees, life in Nigeria wasn’t much better.
The flight from Libya to Lagos was just one of hundreds operated under the EU-IOM Joint Initiative, which has assisted the voluntary return of 81,000 African migrants – 50,000 of them from Libya. Under the programme, African migrants are offered flights back to their home country as well as cash, counselling and reintegration support.