Rex’s Ordeal in Libya

IOM - UN Migration
Nov 8 · 3 min read

When Being Informed Is Not Enough to Keep You Home

Rex, one among the stranded migrant assisted to return to Nigeria through in 2017. Photo: IOM/ Amanda Nero

Information is power, runs the popular adage. However, being informed about the risks he would endure along the migration routes was not enough to keep Rex home.

“I owned a barber shop and I was doing quite well,” said the 20-year-old Nigerian. ‘’I was aware of the dangers of travelling through the desert to Libya, and at times discouraged people from doing so, and yet, I fell victim of it,’’ he added.

Rex paid the sum of NGN 350,000 (USD 970) to a smuggler, popularly referred to as “bogar” in Nigeria, who promised to take him to Libya in “an air-conditioned bus and put him on a ship headed to Italy.”

“I saw the pictures of Europe a friend posted on Instagram. We chatted, and he told me not to be afraid,” said the young man. “This friend was under my tutelage and I felt that if he could make it, then there is no harm in trying’’.

Rex’s adventure was however not what he expected.

After his failed attempt at crossing to Italy, Rex was sent to a detention centre. He stayed there for six months, together with other migrants from Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal and Mali.

“I thought about committing suicide while in detention. We did not have enough food and water. We could not shower.”

It had already been 18 months since Rex last spoke with his family, who assumed he was dead.

“The day he left home; I had a premonition that something was wrong in my house. For three days, we did not know his whereabouts,” said Michel, Rex’s father. His mother died a few months after his departure, “probably because of the high blood pressure she developed worrying about her missing son,” the father added.

During one of IOM’s visits to the detention centre, Rex indicated that he wanted to go home.

Upon return, and after receiving counselling, he was supported by IOM to reopen the barber shop he had closed down before leaving for Europe.

Rex, attending to a client at his barbershop in Benin City, Edo State. Photo: IOM/ Amanda Nero

“IOM helped me stand on my feet again. Today, I encourage youth not to take this journey. Experience is the best teacher, and I’m grateful for my lessons,” concluded the young man.

As part of its awareness raising activities, IOM uses participatory communications involving the communities and returnees to raise awareness about the risks of irregular migration as well and promote social cohesion.

Since 2017, over 14,000 stranded Nigerian migrants were assisted with voluntarily humanitarian return, through the EU-IOM Joint Initiative for Migrant Protection and Reintegration. Many families in Nigeria are missing their loved ones who have left home to travel to Europe. Through the Joint Initiative, IOM has assisted in reunifying ten vulnerable migrants with their families and over 20 family tracing cases were initiated in Edo and Delta states of Nigeria.


This story was written by Fatima Adamu from IOM Nigeria.

IOM - UN Migration

Written by

Official account of IOM, the United Nations Migration Agency.

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