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Thursday, August 18, 2022

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14:18

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Niger/Covid-19: what fate for migrants since the closure of borders?

Officially closed due to the coronavirus disease, internal movements are reduced, and several hundred migrants are housed in transit centers and temporary sites to quarantine the new returned migrants from Algeria.

They are more than 2 000 migrants in the transit centers of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Niger. Among them, around 800 migrants are housed at the Agadez center and more than 200 others at a temporary quarantine site on the outskirts of the city, the organization said in its recent situation report.

As part of the fight against the coronavirus pandemic (Covid-19), the Nigerien government had taken several measures such as the closure of borders, the curfew, the sanitary isolation of the city of Niamey as well as a compulsory two-week quarantine for people arriving from abroad.

All these measures have affected displacement within the country, or even its complete cessation, particularly in Agadez where the decline in migration to the north has been observed, particularly at transport companies. “We are in a difficult time because of the measures against the disease. No bus has been able to move, almost for two months. You know that before this illness, the transport of migrants to Agadez has considerably decreased with the law. Three years ago, we put five buses on the Agadez-Niamey stretch and other companies put up to ten buses. Today, hardly a bus is on this stretch. So, the coronavirus hasn’t come to kill us but to bury us. We hope the government will help us overcome this ordeal”, says Sani Seydou, manager of a transport company in Niamey.

The informal economy around migration is also affected. Sellers of bottled water, food vendors, street vendors, vendors of lumber that is used as support by migrants on pick-up trucks, transporters and currency change operations are no longer functional. “Since the borders were closed, businesses or activities linked to migration have stopped. No departure of migrants from Agadez to the north”, says a former smuggler.

Difficult quarantine

Since the appearance of the first case of coronavirus in Niger, the authorities of the Agadez region created a regional committee composed of the Regional Directorate of Public Health (DRSP), the IOM, humanitarian organizations working in the area, the Defense and Security Forces and several other technical partners to better respond to emergencies. Thus, the regional stadium was requisitioned to quarantine the migrants and a center at Agadez hospital to treat the most urgent cases.

According to the IOM, “after the last expulsion of 813 migrants from Algeria on March 19, when the border with Algeria was closed, the migrants continued to cross the border. Groups of migrants, ranging from six to 98 people have arrived in Assamaka, which makes it more and more difficult to quarantine them, having to be separated from pre-existing groups”.

In Assamaka, at the border, a system is in place, according to Idi Chaibou, Permanent Secretary at the governorate of Agadez. “As soon as the wave arrives, arrangements are made for these people to be confined for two weeks. After confinement, this is when they are transported to come to Arlit. From there, if there are foreigners of other nationalities, IOM takes care of them. For Nigeriens, it is the departmental authorities that take care of them through regional coordination”, he said.

And to add: “each time the announced wave arrives, we mobilize to sensitize our African brothers [housed at the transit center, ed. note] to make them understand that these are people who have ended their confinement. Sometimes acts happen that we manage to calm down very early. But it was not easy at the start”.

At the Agadez transit center, it is often difficult for residents to respect physical distancing. “You see for yourself, where we live now is a bit critical. Although the Nigerien authorities are congratulated for their welcoming, concerning the other measures, distancing, there is none here. This disease is spread by respiratory droplets. You can be infected without realizing it. We thank God first, because so far there has been no case. Nothing has been reported. It’s the power of God”, says a returned Ivorian from Algeria.

Today, they are awaiting the lifting of restrictions so that they can return home to their country of origin. “They should help us to leave this place. We are here for 19 days. It’s not easy for us” says an English-speaking migrant.

Blocked in Niger for several weeks, the IOM has been able to facilitate the return of some migrants. “Currently, we still have more than 1 800 migrants under our responsibility. We asked for the humanitarian corridor to assist them in their voluntary return to their country of origin”, says Oscar Safari, the organization’s representative in Agadez. On June 4, 179 Malian nationals were able to return home after “almost three months in the IOM transit centers in Niamey and Agadez due to the closure of the borders linked to Covid-19”.

Abandoned migrants

“More than 250 distressed migrants were found last week near Madama, on the Nigerien border with Libya, abandoned by their smugglers in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic. The majority came from Nigeria (104), Ghana (53) and Burkina (34). A baby is among them and is currently being assisted by IOM protection personnel”, IOM announced in early April. They were transferred to Agadez football stadium for a 14-day quarantine period. But, according to the director of the local newspaper Aïr Info, 43 migrants fled the site after a week of confinement.

Despite the border closures, a group of migrants attempted to cross the desert in early April, bypassing the main roads. At least 20 people, all of Nigerien nationalities, coming from Libya died in the Nigerien desert, said a survivor contacted by Sahelien.com.

Thirst is believed to be the cause of the tragedy following a breakdown in their vehicle, he said. According to him, it was while looking for a repairman that he had the “chance to come across a vehicle that was going to Agadez”. A few days later, news of the death of the other passengers reached him through other returned migrants.

In May, the number of arrivals at the border with Algeria fell. “Last week, the IOM transported 42 migrants who finished their quarantine in Assamaka to the transit center in Arlit. Overall, there has been a significant reduction in migrant arrivals from Algeria to Assamaka in May, with only 133 arrivals compared to 533 in April. The vast majority of the new arrivals were Nigerians (125) returning from the Algerian gold mines, the rest being Sierra Leoneans (6) and Cameroonians (2)”.

In Agadez, a migratory crossroads, long before this health crisis, the passage of migrants became increasingly difficult, since the adoption of the law against migrant smuggling in May 2015. In view of repressive measures, smugglers and migrants take more dangerous roads to try to reach the European coasts.

Sahelien.com

*Produced with the support of the Sahel Program of IMS, funded by DANIDA.

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