* Evacuees robbed of phones and belongings
* Libya a stepping stone on migrants' route to Europe
(Adds quotes from Nigerian evacuees, background)
By Wangui Kanina and Abraham Archiga
NAIROBI/ABUJA, Feb 28 (Reuters) - Kenyans and Nigerians fleeing unrest in Libya said on Monday they faced attacks and hostility from Libyan citizens and officials who branded them as mercenaries supporting Muammar Gaddafi's rule. A Kenya Airways flight landed in Nairobi with 90 Kenyans on board, and 64 other people from South Sudan, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Zambia, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sierra Leone and Burundi, officials said.
Nigeria said it had flown 1,035 of its citizens back to the capital Abuja on two chartered flights on Sunday, with about 1,000 more to follow in the coming days. "We were being attacked by local people who said that we were mercenaries killing people. Let me say that they did not want to see black people," Julius Kiluu, a 60-year-old building supervisor who arrived back in Nairobi, told Reuters. "Our camp was burnt down, and we were assisted by the Kenyan embassy and our company to get to the airport."
Libya's former ambassador to India, Ali-al-Essawi, told Reuters last week African mercenaries were being used by Libya to crush protests, prompting some army troops to switch sides to the opposition. Another Kenyan worker said government officials were confiscating mobile phones, tearing open bags and throwing their contents on to piles at the packed airport in Tripoli.
"When they saw a black person, they immediately saw a mercenary, and if you dared use your telephone in public, it was grabbed and the SIM card removed. If your telephone was cheap you got it back, but if it was expensive it was pocketed," said Kenyan worker Francis Ndung'u. Nigerians arriving in Abuja told similar tales. "We are all slaves in the hands of the government over there," said one returnee, James Ugochuku. "Nigerians are hiding inside the bush. They don't eat, they die because if they come out, they kill them."
Libya is a stepping stone on one of the oldest and most dangerous migration and smuggling routes to Europe. Thousands of people from countries including Senegal, Mali, Ghana and Nigeria have tried in recent years to cross the desert in the hope of reaching Italy or Spain's southern shores, a perilous journey of about 40 days by truck from Agadez in northern Niger to Sabha in southern Libya.
Besides being a gateway to Europe, the north African country offers higher wages for low-skilled work and higher prices for tobacco smuggled through Benin or Nigeria, and there is still a thriving black market trade along its ancient desert routes. The Nigerian authorities suspect some of the returnees may have travelled illegally, and NEMA has set up a camp in Abuja where they will be accommodated and screened for valid travel documents before being discharged.
Muhammad Sani-Sidi, head of Nigeria's National Emergency Management Agency, told Reuters it was a voluntary evacuation and the 2,000 were Nigerians who had registered a desire to leave with their embassy in Tripoli. He estimated there were 10,000 Nigerians in Libya. Antony Mwaniki, Kenya's ambassador to Libya, was among those on the flight to Nairobi.
"The situation in Tripoli right now is calm ... but it would be difficult to know what will happen today, tomorrow or in a few days' time, so it was paramount and critical that we leave," he told reporters at Nairobi airport. Many Kenyans said they would return to Libya if it stabilised because they were earning good money in the North African country's construction sector.
"If there is peace tomorrow I will go back, there are no jobs here and I was making a good salary," Kiluu said.
(Editing by David Clarke and Nick Tattersall)