By Moustapha Diallo, IFRC
Adama Ismael, 24, from Sudan, looks tired. His face deeply drawn from sleeplessness. He appears worried.
He is one of the thousands of migrants and asylum seekers trapped in Agadez—having failed to make it to Europe, via north Africa and across the Mediterranean Sea. In their attempt to reach Europe, most fell prey to smugglers and became victims of extortion of money, torture, abuse, prison, rape and slavery.
In January 2018, Ismael and thousands of other migrants fled violence in Libya and sought refuge in Agadez, northern Niger.
“I am tired, tired, tired. We’ve been through hell in Libya, while here in Agadez, we lack food, water and shelter,” confides Ismael. “Nevertheless, I am happy, as we don’t run the risk of being killed or sold into slavery.”
Ismael, like most Sudanese refugees, is reluctant to return home. “Some of us left Sudan years ago having lost everything during the conflict. Returning home means restarting our lives from zero. So, it is better to stay here,” he says.
In small groups, they queue in front of the Direction régionale de l’État civil (Regional Civil Status Office), where they hope to submit applications for asylum in Niger. As of 22 February 2018, there were more than 1,300 Sudanese registered in Agadez.
A few steps away from there you see a “ghetto” – a group of houses rented by migrants. There, 25 other young Africans from across Africa share two rooms. Their common dream – to reach Europe to build a better future—brings them closer.
For years, Agadez has been the transit point for migrants hoping to make their way to Europe through Libya. However, since the implementation of a law in 2016 in Niger criminalizing transport of migrants, the crossing of the Sahara Desert has become difficult.
As a result, thousands of migrants are stranded in Agadez, having turned down opportunities to return home. They include newcomers, survivors from Libya and those repatriated from Algeria. Many of them have faced abuse and trafficking from smugglers. Despite increased security measures, hundreds of migrants continue to arrive in Agadez daily.
While awaiting their chance to leave, they continue to stay in the “ghetto,” in the outskirts of Agadez.
“I endured very harsh and humiliating experiences and all these sacrifices must not be in vain. I will go to Europe, whatever happens. If it will take a year, then I’ll wait a year,” says Ousmane Badiane from Senegal.
“I’d rather die than go home empty-handed. Anyway, I’m not afraid of death, because you could die in your sleep,” he adds.
With the growing inflow of migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers, the population of Agadez has doubled, straining the basic services, including health, water and sanitation.
“The needs are immense, as the number of migrants is increasing rapidly,” says Mr Mohamed Anako, the president of the regional council. “Unfortunately, humanitarian organisations and non-governmental organisations are mostly assisting migrants and refugees, while the local communities are equally vulnerable and facing extreme challenges. This can be frustrating,” adds Anako.
According to Anako, at least 7,000 people who benefitted from the migrant economy—for instance, by running transport businesses—have now lost their livelihoods and need support to find other types of work.
The Red Cross Society of Niger, in collaboration with other Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement partners, has been responding to the needs of migrants and host communities.
The activities include, health services through mobile clinics, sensitization on the risks rampant in the desert, psychosocial support, income generating activities and restoring family links among migrants.