Around 1,000 migrants rescued in Niger desert since April

IOM together with the Nigerien Civil Protection. Photo: UN Migration Agency (IOM) 2017

TMP – 16/08/2017

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) said on 9 August that its search and rescue operations have rescued 1,000 migrants since April in Niger’s northern desert.

Smugglers routinely abandon migrants in the northern part of Niger, which is a transit point to Libya, from where migrants set out on flimsy boats in their attempt to reach Europe.

Recently, fewer smugglers are setting off from the Nigerien city of Agadez, which was previously a major smuggling hub, and are now taking more treacherous routes through the Sahara Desert to avoid getting caught.

“Smugglers are taking more risks to avoid major hubs, checkpoints and security controls,” said Alberto Preato, IOM programme manager in Niger.

“But cars break down, drivers get lost and migrants get abandoned … the conditions are dire. Migrants say: ‘The desert is a larger cemetery than the Mediterranean’,” Preato added.

During the last week of July, IOM, together with Niger’s Department of Civil Protection, conducted an assessment of migratory routes in Niger’s northern desert and the border with Libya, covering more than 1,400 kilometres.

“I was shocked when, not far from the border between Niger and Libya in Toummo, we came across a large group of women mainly from Nigeria and Ghana sleeping in a dark hangar quite close to the border post, waiting for their next passage north,” Preato said.

There is currently no data on the number of migrants who perish in the Sahara Desert.
“Because the desert is so vast … it is hard to know how many people are actually dying en route,” IOM spokeswoman Olivia Headon said. “But it is definitely in the hundreds if not thousands,” she added.
During one of IOM’s latest search and rescue missions in Niger, staff rescued 23 Gambian and Senegalese migrants, including a 7-year-old girl, who had been abandoned by their drivers.

“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,” Alberto Preato said.