Lagos, 11 November 2022 – A smile spreads across Lilian’s face as she savours the taste of Nigerian jollof rice for the first time, after spending five years in Libya.

“When I was pregnant, I craved plantain and jollof rice. I was looking at pictures on Facebook and dreaming about it.” The 32-year-old is the mother of two little girls, Sofia and Sonia, aged 4 years and 5 months. She gave birth on her own in Tripoli while her husband, Ahmed, was working to provide for his growing family.

“I gave birth in our house,” Lilian recounts. “It was only me. I was in labour for three days, and nobody knew.” She went to the local hospital to seek help when she felt ready to deliver. However, without the appropriate documentation like a passport, a marriage certificate, or a COVID-19 test, it was impossible to get support. Helpless and alone with little Sofia at home, she gave birth on her own.

“I was exhausted. I didn’t eat for three days.”

Lilian arrived in Libya at the end of July 2017 in search of a better future. Having lost her parents at a very young age, she grew up alone in the suburbs of Benin City in southern Nigeria.

Lilian at the Migrant Transit Centre in Lagos. Photo: IOM/Stylia Kampani

“It was hard. I had to take care of everything and had no one to turn to for help.” When she was younger, Lilian had dreamt of becoming a nurse, but she did not have enough money for school fees. Some of her friends had told her stories of Nigerians earning good money in Libya and she eventually succumbed to the stories of a better life there. After 15 rough days travelling from Benin City to Kano, Niger and through the Sahara Desert, she finally made it to Tripoli.

In Tripoli, she connected with other Nigerians and found a job as a cleaner in a house. “People were unkind to me just because I was African.”

Life in Libya was not as she had imagined. Kidnappings, beatings, imprisonment, extortion, and abuse are commonplace for migrants transiting or living in Libya.

“In Libya, we sleep with one eye open. One needs to be ready to run at any time,” Lilian emphasizes. 

She recounts one night when her family was forced out of the house as the landlord suddenly rushed in demanding higher rent. “If you can’t pay, they throw you out of the house immediately. They would come in with guns and metal batons, ready to beat you.”

Lilian attending a Mental Health and Psychosocial Support session at the Migrant Transit Centre in Lagos. Photo: IOM/Stylia Kampani

Unable to pay the increased rent, they packed up their belongings and left in the middle of the night.

For a few days, Lilian’s family squatted with other Nigerians until her husband found another room. At the new house though, she said that the landlord made inappropriate remarks and advances towards her. Eventually, when her husband Ahmed was away for work outside of Tripoli, the landlord became aggressive and tried to force himself on her but she repelled his advances.

In retaliation, the landlord kicked the family out of the house the same day. Once again, Lilian’s family were in the streets for days.

At the time, Lilian received baby products, food, and medicine from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Libya as she did not have enough money. She had also heard about IOM’s return and reintegration assistance and decided, after years of hardship in Libya, to return to Nigeria.

“Going back home felt like a dream after all I experienced in Libya,” she says. Lilian is among the 126 Nigerians who arrived home safely from Libya on 13 October 2022. So far, more than 3,000 Nigerians have been assisted by IOM with voluntary return from Libya since January 2022. The partnership between IOM and the European Union under the EU-IOM Joint Initiative for Migrant Protection and Reintegration has been instrumental in helping give Nigerians a new perspective back home.

By Stylia Kampani, Public Information Officer, IOM Nigeria

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