Hundreds of migrants returning home from Libya camps

Hundreds of West African migrants who had been stranded in Libya are returning home as worried governments repatriate them amid outrage over slave auctions.

African Union has ambitious plan to return about 20,000 from Libya after slave trading, camp reports

A returnee migrant, centre, brought home from Libya is embraced by relatives in Benin, the capital of Edo State in midwest Nigeria, on Thursday. (Utomi Ekpei/AFP/Getty Images)

Hundreds of West African migrants who had been stranded in Libya are returning home as worried governments repatriate them amid outrage over slave auctions.

Another 164 migrants returned to Nigeria early Friday, the latest group to be repatriated with help from the European Union and the International Organization for Migration. The first 504 migrants from neighbouring Niger, including children, returned home Wednesday, part of an expected mass voluntary evacuation of 3,850 over the coming days, the UN migration agency said.

The African Union aims to return 20,000 migrants from Libya over the next six weeks after international condemnation of slave auctions in Libya revealed by recent CNN footage. Between 400,000 and 700,000 migrants are thought to be in more than 40 detention camps across the chaotic north African country, often under inhumane conditions, the AU Commission chairman has said.

Europe has struggled to stem the flow of tens of thousands of Africans making the dangerous crossing of the Mediterranean. But many Africans still make the journey, risking death and abuse, saying pressure that include high unemployment and climate change leave them little choice.

African and European leaders last week drew up an emergency evacuation plan for migrants, agreeing to airlift at least 3,800 stranded in detention centres across Libya.

Nigerian returnees from Libya wait to be registered by officials upon arrival at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos on Dec. 5. Hundreds of West African migrants who had been stranded in Libya are returning home as worried governments repatriate them amid outrage over slave auctions. (Sunday Alamba/Associated Press)

Several West African nations including Gambia, Cameroon and Ivory Coast have begun bringing their citizens home.

A flight with 167 migrants, including seven children, returned to Guinea on Thursday, the UN migration agency said. Some of them reported beatings while in detention centres in Libya.

"I spent three months in prison. I do not know the name because we never went out, only for beating sessions because I did not have money," one of the migrants told the UN agency. "I have a lot of pain in my upper body."

Organizations including Amnesty International and Doctors Without Borders have criticized Europe, saying its primary aim is to close the often deadly smuggling route across the Mediterranean and leave hundreds of thousands of migrants trapped in Libya and at risk of horrific abuses.