Niger is one of the least developed countries in the world, with the poorest socio-economic and development indicators (188/188 UNDP HDI 2016) and the highest demographic growth (average 7.6 children per woman). Instability in neighbouring countries (notably Mali, Libya and Nigeria), as well as internal conflict in certain regions in Niger, periodic drought and flooding, and the establishment of the ECOWAS free movement area, are all factors shaping the migratory movements that affect Niger as both a country of origin, transit and destination.
Migrants arriving from ECOWAS countries enjoy freedom of movement and enter Niger legally. Nigerien authorities are powerless to return migrants from ECOWAS countries identified attempting to cross illegally into Libya. In the absence of possibilities for voluntary return many remain stranded in Niger with no other choice than to try to earn enough to pay for the continuation of the trip. For more than 90% of the migrants assisted by IOM (both Nigeriens and other nationalities) the willingness to improve their living conditions and to seek better professional opportunities are the main reasons for deciding to migrate.
Although Niger is considered relatively stable, population displacement, and the continued growth of migrant ‘ghettos’ in hot spots along the migratory routes, increase pressure on already limited resources (food and land) and could pose a threat to the fragile security balance in northern Niger. The activities of transnational criminal and terrorist organizations (AQIM, MUJAO, Al-Sharia, Boko Haram, Al-Mulathameen Brigades) also contribute to this insecurity.
Niger is mainly known as a country of transit for migratory flows from West Africa towards Libya and Algeria, and then, for some, further to the Mediterranean. Between February and June 2016, IOM observed over 300,000 persons leaving Niger towards (mainly) Libya and Algeria. IOM’s assessment show that the migrants are generally young men who migrate for economic reasons and originate from Senegal, Nigeria, the Gambia, Mali and other West-African countries. All these countries belong to the ECOWAS and the migrants are thus entitled to freely travel and stay in Niger, as long as they have at least a national ID, which is generally the case. Other countries of origin, frequently observed in Niger, such as Cameroon and Chad, have bilateral agreements with Niger, granting the same freedom of movement for their mutual citizens. Those migrants who make it to Libya and Algeria often face difficult conditions, remain stranded or even become victims of abusive treatment and / or trafficking, often committed by private individuals. The trend is overall rising, since 2015, 100,000 to 120,000 migrants are estimated to have transited Niger, according to the authorities.
At the same time, migration has become a considerable source or economic development for towns along the migratory road in Niger, accommodation and services provided to migrants being often enough the only sources of income for households in those region, in particular since the insecurity-related disappearance of touristic interest in the Northern Niger. The anti-smuggling law, which was adopted by the Government of Niger in May 2016, does indeed foresee prosecution of smuggling activities, however, considerable efforts are still needed to firstly inform and sensitize populations as well as various government agencies on the contents and meanings of this law, and secondly adopt all regulatory and administrative acts for its implementation.
The response to the challenges needs to be multifaceted, allowing at the same time to efficiently prevent, prosecute and punish migrant trafficking and smuggling, to ensure protection of migrants and to foster legal migration and opportunities for economic development in both Niger and the countries of origin. In this vein, and despite the many political and operational challenges, a well-articulated set of interventions in interconnected sectors in Niger can significantly reduce the migratory pressure in Niger and irregular flows to North Africa and Europe.
One first important step has been taken by the Government of Niger through the adoption of a dedicated law to counter migrant smuggling. IOM is currently working with the Government and other partners on the operationalization of the law through the development of an action plan and provision of training to law enforcement and the judiciary. In addition, IOM provides broad capacity building and expertise to the different relevant Government agencies in the different fields of migration and for the development of a comprehensive national strategy on migration.
To support this effort and allow for better comprehension and planning, IOM is increasing its data collection and analysis mechanisms through flow monitoring in the field.
In parallel, IOM continues to conduct profiling, and to provide counselling and direct assistance to migrants, including protection to victims of trafficking and other vulnerable migrants, as well as assisted voluntary return to countries of origin. Equally, IOM works on strengthening regional cross-border cooperation, with as one of the objectives increased coordination and information exchange between border agencies that will contribute to enhancing security and more efficiently fighting trans-border crimes such as trafficking and smuggling.
At the same time, IOM is working on reinforcing the link between migration and development opportunities in Niger and the whole sub-region, through the support to local development initiatives in which migrants are interconnected with communities of origin and transit, offering all of them opportunities for professional training and participation in development initiatives.
IOM’s transit centres
IOM has five open-type transit centres for migrants in Arlit, Dirkou, Agadez and Niamey. These transit centres are open, meaning that accommodation is voluntary and migrants can leave at any time. IOM does not operate any closed / detention facilities. The main condition for accommodation in the centres is a willingness to voluntarily return home.
All migrants arriving at the centre are registered, profiled and briefed by IOM staff. Stay in the centres is generally short (1-2 weeks), allowing for migrants to finalize their return plans, contact their family and certify the presence of travel documents and tickets for transportation back home which, depending on security constraints and physical constitution of migrants, is organized either by plane or by bus.
In 2016, IOM has welcomed and assisted over 6,000 migrants in its transit centres. All migrants arriving in the centre are willing to return home, however, some migrants may leave the centres before the return component of the assistance can be delivered. This explains the difference between the numbers of migrants welcomed and the number of migrants who benefit from return transport assistance to their country and community of origin.
In addition, the transit centre in Agadez also offers short professional training for those migrants who wish to acquire skills before returning home. The local population is also associated to these trainings as to offer inclusive economic opportunities and alternatives to migration-related sources of revenue. By end December 2016, over 600 beneficiaries had been trained.
Assistance and protection
In its transit centres, but also in the context of stranded migrants in the desert, IOM ensures immediate attention and assistance to migrants. The basic assistance is comprised of food and water, shelter (in the centres), health and psychosocial assistance as well as assistance with travel documents. Further, IOM adapts its services to vulnerable migrants with tailored assistance.
The specific assistance package for unaccompanied minors includes, besides the basic package, in-depth psycho-social support, liaison with the Nigerien authorities, in particular the judge for minors, family tracing, escorted voluntary return and individual, adapted reintegration assistance. In line with jointly developed SOPs with UNHCR, IOM also refers asylum-seekers to UNHCR. In terms of medical assistance, IOM assisted more than 800 migrants in 2016.
Assisted voluntary return
IOM assists all migrants, Nigeriens and third-country nationals who wish to return home with transportation and return assistance. Besides temporary accommodation at one of the centres, this assistance includes liaising with consulates and Embassies in order to obtain travel documents or laissez-passers, booking plane or bus tickets for the travel to the migrants’ countries of origin and pocket money to cover small expenses (e.g. for food) for the journey back home. Throughout 2015 IOM assisted with voluntary return over 1,500 migrants from third-countries. In 2016, IOM has assisted more than 5,000 migrants with voluntary return to their countries of origin.
IOM is implementing community reintegration projects in the prevalent regions of origin of migrants in the main countries of return in order to make the return process more sustainable and to offer perspectives for the future, for migrants, but also to support the migrants’ communities of origin, often left behind with little to no resources. By the end of November 2016, a total of 70 projects had been set up in Senegal, Guinea-Conakry, Nigeria, Mali and Guinea Bissau with over 800 direct beneficiaries including members of the communities, migrants and potential migrants. The projects cover joint community activities with greater impact for the targeted regions, such as agriculture, fishery, transport or trade.
Since April 2016, IOM is running an orientation office for migrants in the city centre of Agadez, a migratory crossroad in Niger, to allow migrants and host communities to have easy access to objective information on safe migration and receive individual counseling on alternatives to irregular migration. It consists of a team of 14 community mobilisers (often former migrants themselves) who have been hired and trained to share information and provide advice to migrants. The goal of the orientation office and community mobilisers is to promote safe and informed migration by establishing trust with the local community and the migrant network.
Mobilizers visits the ghettos and strategic places in Agadez each day to exchange with migrants and the local community. During these discussions they inform people about migration and answer any questions that may arise about opportunities for regular migration, the dangers of irregular migration and IOM’s work. Migrants and members of the host community also have the opportunity to come to the orientation office to learn about migration and IOM. More than 50% of migrants who have visited the orientation office since its opening have decided to go the transit centre in the order to start the Assisted Voluntary Return process.
IOM Niger’s activities are funded by: EU, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, US