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The Caritas Migrant House offering comfort at the gateway to the Sahara

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Many migrants leaving Africa for Europe will have to pass a landlocked country of Mali. As they prepare for their daunting journey across the Sahara desert, Caritas migrant house in Gao welcomes and offers them help and comfort. Gao is located on the edge of the desert, migrants call the city “gateway to the Sahara”. Caritas migrant house is a sanctuary where migrants can find support and advice on their journey.

“The World Day of Migrants is a moment when we will celebrate…but it will also be a moment for migrants to express their pain and sadness,” says staff of Gao migrant house.

“During the week of the 18th December, we are honouring women and young girls who are victims of human trafficking. Part of our activities will include awareness raising about migrant rights and teaching people how to make the right decision regarding migration.”

The Gao migrant house was opened in the 1990s and the numbers of migrants from central and west Africa have increased exponentially since then. The aim is to welcome migrants, whose destination may be very far away, with love and dignity. The maximum stay was ten days, but during the COVID-19 pandemic, when borders are closed, migrants can stay for up to three months.

During the pandemic, the number of migrants arriving in Gao has increased to an average of 300 per day. Caritas has kept the door open throughout the period.

Increased insecurity in the north of Mali is one cause of migration; Poverty and the dream of a better life are the others. Most migrants staying at Caritas house come from Niger and other African countries, but there are also people from Pakistan, Sri Lanka and other non-African countries. The house also welcomes migrants who return to Mali from Algeria.

“Many of the migrants we receive who have been returned from Algeria arrived in a very poor state of health. Some of them have serious illnesses such as tuberculosis and we’re making sure they get hospital treatment. Ten migrants who have come to us have died so far this year. This is the highest number yet” says Caritas staff.

Caritas gives practical assistance such as health and hygiene support, but also focuses on education to ensure migrants take an informed decision before migrating. Some of the migrants decide to train in skills such as hairdressing or bricklaying and look for work in Gao rather than continuing on their journey.

Caritas advocates globally for legal and safe pathways and access to services for migrants. Caritas contributed to the process and calls for an effective implementation of the Global Compact on migration.

Caritas reiterates that migrants are victims of global injustice resulting from political and economic systems. We support them in their quest for a safer haven where they can realise their dream of a better life and live in dignity.