Over 60 Nigerians return from Lebanon as migrant worker conditions worsen

On Sunday (16 August), 68 Nigerian women stranded in Lebanon returned home safely on a charter flight organized by the Federal Government of Nigeria arriving at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Abuja.

This week the International Organization for Migration (IOM) is providing accommodation and meals to the returnees—ranging between the ages of 18 and 35—during their stay in Abuja. This period will allow the necessary profiling to assess their needs and vulnerabilities.

Since May, 165 stranded Nigerian migrants returned from Lebanon – 13 of whom traveled through IOM’s assisted voluntary return and reintegration (AVRR) programme. IOM provided assistance to all those who returned with case management support as well as access to food, accommodation, hygiene kits and legal counsel prior to their departure from Lebanon.

“We are all in Nigeria now and appreciate your kindness and your efforts for helping us get home,” said one of the migrants who returned to Nigeria at the end of July. “ I’m so grateful you stood by me.”

Upon arrival in Nigeria, support from IOM includes a 14-day quarantine period, referral for legal assistance, pre-departure testing for COVID-19, provision of protective personal equipment, shelter, as well as medical psychosocial support. IOM will provide additional reintegration support to the new arrivals following their needs assessment.

“Since the start of the pandemic, voluntary return operations for stranded Nigerians have been delayed,” explained Abrham Tamrat, IOM Nigeria Programme Manager.

“With the current situation in Lebanon, we are stepping up our coordination efforts with the Nigerian government to ensure that Nigerian migrants can return safely while keeping communities of origin healthy.”

“We must continue to ensure vulnerable migrants are properly screened and assisted in partnership with governments of origin and destination as well as civil society organizations and community leaders who have been very active in assisting migrants in Lebanon,” said Dima Hadad, IOM Lebanon Programme Officer for the Levant Regional Project.

Migrants are stranded for various reasons including, but not only, restrictions on travel and the related drop in international flights. Loss of jobs and income, lack of employment, loss of residence permits and lack of resources to return home have all impacted mobility.

Worldwide, extraordinary measures—including travel and mobility restrictions—are having an impact on all people. But some are exacerbating the precarious situations and vulnerabilities of migrant populations and in particular, leading to a large number of migrants being stranded.

A total of 219 countries, territories and areas had imposed 60,711 restrictions by early May, which was unprecedented historically.  As visas and permits expire migrants are also facing deportation. This increases the possibility of more limited (or no) access to health care and social support, stigmatization and xenophobia, and the risk of detention in already overcrowded detention facilities, and homelessness. Those stranded may also be more vulnerable to exploitation, including trafficking in persons and — out of desperation — take up employment in conditions with increased exposure to COVID-19.

Last week, IOM reported that approximately eight per cent of the estimated 300,000 people affected by the explosions at the Port of Beirut are migrant workers, many living in economically disadvantaged areas in Greater Beirut. At least 150 migrant workers have been injured. Fifteen are known to have died in the explosion.

According to the Lebanese Embassy in Abuja, there are an estimated 5,000 Nigerians living in Lebanon. Many of these migrants, often working as domestic workers, report mistreatment from employers and have been exposed to further vulnerabilities following this tragic incident.

IOM continues to promote discussions between the Nigerian government and governments in transit and destination countries to establish humanitarian corridors that will allow those who request voluntary return to do so. Following the closure of the Nigerian airspace to international commercial travel, humanitarian corridors are a much-needed alternative to enable stranded Nigerians to come home.

On 28 July, with the support of the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID) and the European Union Regional Direct Assistance Fund, 109 Nigerian migrants returned safely from Mali on the first charter flight to the country since the COVID-19 related airspace closure. On 29 July, a group of 158 Nigerians—including 32 children—were assisted in their return from Niger.

IOM’s assistance to returnees during the pandemic is aligned with measures such as testing, and quarantining recommended by the World Health Organization and local health authorities.

IOM continues to assist Nigerian returnees amid COVID-19 movement restrictions. From June to July alone, 1,500 returnees received reintegration assistance, counseling, and capital to start their own business according to their needs.

Recently (14 August) IOM launched an appeal to raise funds for its emergency response following the explosions in Beirut. Since late last year, Lebanon has plunged into an economic recession that has been accentuated by the COVID-19 crisis, directly impacting the lives of migrant workers and their families.  

The accommodation and food assistance provided to the newly arrived returnees is supported by the Global Assistance Fund.

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