The Nigerian government has started to put into action plans of helping its citizens in Libya.
Recently, Nigerians have been the largest national group among African migrants traveling to Libya and trying to cross from there to Italy by sea. Since local armed factions and Libya’s coast guard began blocking more migrants from leaving in July 2017, large numbers have been trapped in Libya, where they often face dire conditions and abuse, including forced labor.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has in recent months accelerated a "voluntary returns" programme to repatriate migrants from a number of countries. Nigeria now joins Niger in organizing bilateral returns.
"The main objective, and we’re very focused on that objective, is to get these Nigerian citizens back home as quickly as possible. Our president has made available all the resources necessary to repatriate all the Nigerians here," said the foreign minister.
Nigeria had been expecting to fly back about 5,500 migrants, Onyema said, but the situation on the ground made the actual number hard to ascertain.
Onyema said, "Some of the difficulties with getting precise numbers are that some are within the control of the central government in camps, some are clearly outside the camps, some are also in less accessible areas where there might not be full central government control and authority."
Criminals involved in smuggling and trafficking migrants "also are interested that a number of them should not be repatriated, because these represent economic assets for them."
Libya has been in turmoil since a 2011 uprising, with rival governments and armed factions vying for power. Onyema was hosted by the internationally recognized government in Tripoli, which has struggled to assert its authority on the ground.
Slightly fewer than half as many migrants reached Europe by sea in 2017 than 2016, the IOM said which is largely due to a drop in numbers crossing from Libya.