Nigerian returnees from Libya have continued to recount the harrowing ordeal they experienced while in that country, including a day when 20 of them were sold for just $730 (N260,000).
The Nigerians gave their accounts in interviews with the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), at a hotel in Benin, where they are being accommodated by the Edo State Government.
One of the Nigerian returnees, Agen Akhere, looked like he might well up with tears. He was held for two months in a detention centre in a place called Gharyan.
He was registered by the United Nation’s migration agency (IOM), released from the detention centre and flown home – but his friend did not make it.
“It’s because of money. My friend, he’s still there. His name is Samson. He’s still there, in Gharyan,” he said.
Gharyan is a prison in the mountains about 100 kilometres (60 miles) south of Tripoli and it is the place where all of the migrants said they were taken before they made it home.
According to another returnee, Lucky Akhanene, “they came to our caravans (cells), they pick six persons to do their dirty jobs; to do farming, brick-laying work.”
He returned in the same group as Akhere and was held in Gharyan for four months.
“They give us out to their friends. They don’t pay us. It’s just hard labour; if you’re not fast with your job, you get beaten,” he added.
Three separate people spoke about being leased out by the prison for day labour like this.
Others said they were sold.
Jackson Uwumarogie and Felix Efe were arrested “on top of the sea,” off the coast of Libya and taken to Gharyan.
They said one night, a prison guard came and counted out 20 men, took them outside and blindfolded them. Uwumarogie overheard the men talking about a price – 1,000 dinars ($735; £550). They were put into a van and taken to a farm.
Uwumarogie and Efe were forced to work, harvesting onions and feeding cattle. They slept in a plywood hut and were guarded day and night by men with guns.
They were never paid.
Uwumarogie’s baggy tracksuit bottoms hang from his tiny waist and a tight woollen polo neck highlights his skinny frame and slightly puffy, swollen cheeks. He is clearly not well.
On the farm, they were only given food every few days, he said, and sometimes, given sea water to drink.
After six months, they and five others were loaded into a pick-up truck and taken to the desert.
“They dumped us there. It was with the help of God that we found the man that rescued us,” Uwumarogie said.
They were there for two days.
The man brought them to his house and then took them to Tripoli, to meet the IOM.
Stories of black slavery in Libya have been circulating for the past two years. But, the number of accounts heard from recent returnees seem to suggest it has become endemic in the detention system. And, it is tied to something that has been going on for much longer: a dark but thriving industry in which migrants are extorted for money by traffickers and prison guards. Wrists tied with barbed wire.
Trafficking: We’re sorry, FG tells 493 Libyan returnees
The Federal Government formally apologised to the 493 Nigerians who were evacuated from Libya yesterday, over the inhuman conditions and trafficking they were subjected to in that country.
Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyema, conveyed that apology on behalf of government, to the returnees, in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, yesterday.
The 493 Nigerians were among the 5, 027 Nigerians government had planned to evacuate from Libya, over reports that citizens were being trafficked and made to undergo forced, unpaid labour.
“Young boys, young girls, I would like on behalf President Muhammadu Buhari, welcome you back to your country. As you know, the people of Nigeria, are very concerned about your wellbeing and Mr. President sent a delegation, which I led to Libya. We are sorry you were being held in inhuman and difficult conditions. We know that most of you were trafficked and sold to slavery. The government will give you a new life. You will be trained in different skills, so that you can live happily. With all the necessary resources at our disposal, he (president Muhammadu Buhari) ensured we went to Libya to do everything possible to bring you back as quickly as possible.
Among the team which received the returnees were Secretary to the Rivers State Government, Mr. Kenneth Kobani, who represented Governor Nyesom Wike, alongside officials of the Nigerian Immigration Service.
Others included officials of Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps, members of Red Cross, Nigerian Police Force, Port Health Officers, Medical team from the University of Port Harcourt.
The Libyan delegation included Onyeama, Director General, National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), Mustapha Maihaja, Federal Commissioner for Refugee, Sadiya Faruk, the Director General, National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons and others.