A new report out by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the United Nations migration agency, said the agency's mission in the Sahara Desert has rescued a total of 1,000 migrants in northern Niger since April of this year. The report, the full text of which is available in French on the IOM's website, is the result of an assessment the agency conducted from July 19-25 on migratory routes in the Tenere desert and the area surrounding Niger's border with Libya.
Mission to help Niger's government manage migration
The aim of the mission, which IOM conducted together with Niger’s Department of Civil Protection (DCP), covered more than 1,400 km and was aimed at strengthening the Nigerien government's ability to manage migration, as well as to gather information about how to better assist migrants in distress on that route. More than 150 migrants in distress were rescued during the assessment mission.IOM search and rescue operations are part of a project funded by the Netherlands government called Migrants Rescue and Assistance in Agadez Region (MIRAA). The project is part of a larger IOM Niger programme titled Migrant Resource and Response Mechanism (MRRM), which is financed by the European Union.Through its assessment, IOM has determined that smugglers are now using more dangerous routes in and out of Niger. IOM is considering whether to install new points for monitoring migrant flows in Niger. The current points are in Séguedine and Arlit.It said migrant flows are lower this year when compared to last year. However, more than 60,000 migrants have been observed entering Niger since January, while 30,000 have been counted exiting the country.
'Need for increased presence in remote areas'
Alberto Preato, MRRM Programme Manager at IOM Niger, expressed "shock" upon seeing a large group of women mainly from Nigeria and Ghana near the border post of Toummo between Niger and Libya, "sleeping in a dark hangar, waiting for their next passage north"."We need to better understand how trafficking and smuggling networks intersect, and to further increase our presence in these remote areas in order to provide information, assistance and alternatives to migrants in need," Preato said. 'Miracle' rescue during recent mission In one of the latest search and rescue missions, IOM staff, together with Niger's DCP, rescued a group of Gambian and Senegalese migrants who were headed for Libya but had been abandoned in the desert by their driver. There were 23 migrants rescued in that operation, one of whom was a seven-year-old girl. Some of the migrants were already known to IOM staff, who had previously met them in ghettos near Agadez and warned them of the dangers of departing for Libya.
One of the survivors said the rescue was "a miracle", but also said he had "never felt so ashamed". "I should have listened to them; I should have never embarked on this route," he added.One of the IOM community mobilizers expressed happiness at seeing the previously encountered migrants still alive, but said, "I feel that I have failed them in some way".The rescued migrants are now recovering at IOM's transit centre for migrants in Agadez and will receive assistance in order to voluntarily return to their countries of origin and reintegrate.In addition to IOM's efforts in assisting migrants in distress in the Niger desert, it also plans to strengthen community stabilization by supporting initiatives within communities along the migratory routes in northern Niger. The picture shows Trucks carrying illegal migrants in the desert heading to Libya (EPA-archive).