Helping migrants in need

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Migrants have to survive the dust and blazing heat of the desert. © BY-NC-ND / ICRC / F. Therrien / v-p-ne-e-00108

28-04-2014 Operational Update

Each year, thousands of migrants pass through Niger. Many of them travelling this route are in dire need of assistance. In Agadez, a centre run by the Red Cross Society of Niger and supported by the ICRC provides aid to the most vulnerable among them.

"The plight of these migrants is of great concern. When they arrive in Agadez, they're often physically and mentally exhausted," said Jean-Nicolas Marti, head of the ICRC delegation in Niger. "They sometimes travel up to a thousand kilometres across the desert in cramped lorries and sweltering heat. Some die on the way."

These migrants come from sub-Saharan Africa. They may be fleeing conflict or poverty in their countries or simply looking for a better life. Some make it to Libya or Algeria and either stay there or head for Europe; others are stopped on the way or sent home. They include people from Niger itself and from Mali, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic.

From a humanitarian standpoint, their journey is an ordeal. They have to cross regions where conflict and other forms of violence are rife and deal with situations that can seriously affect both their physical and their mental health. "Some are arrested, detained and expelled. They may also find themselves trapped in the desert, destitute and unable to contact their families. They are totally unprotected, which means they are easy prey for attackers. Sometimes they just disappear without a trace," said Mr Marti.

Aid for 7,000 migrants in 2013

In the Agadez centre, which was set up by the Red Cross Society of Niger in 2011 and receives financial support from the ICRC, migrants are offered shelter and three hot meals a day. They are also given other basic essentials, such as hygiene products. This humanitarian work is organized in conjunction with the Niger authorities.

"With our partners at the Niger Red Cross, we're working to meet the most basic needs of the migrants we receive," said Maxime Dohogne, an ICRC delegate in Niger. "We focus on the needs of the most vulnerable migrants, regardless of their legal status, providing them with what comfort we can. Our work is strictly of a humanitarian nature – we don't get involved in either encouraging or preventing migration."

In 2013, more than 19,000 meals were handed out to some 7,000 individuals, while medical staff from the French Red Cross treated over 2,000 sick or injured migrants. So far this year, more than 1,100 migrants have received aid.

Some migrants arrive at the centre with major psychiatric problems. "Getting them looked after is not easy, but we always work something out with the health-care services, the migrant’s family or the diplomatic representatives from the migrant's country of origin," said Ismael Mahaman, a member of the Red Cross Society of Niger and the centre's administrator.

Both at the centre in Agadez and in the offices in Dirkou and Arlit run by Niger Red Cross volunteers, migrants can contact their families using the free phone lines installed by the ICRC. In 2013, migrants made over 3,200 calls to their loved ones.

A matter of survival

In extreme cases where migrants find themselves trapped in the desert, and when other humanitarian organizations are unable to help, the ICRC arranges transport for the migrants to Agadez. Last year, the ICRC helped almost 800 migrants reach Agadez safely. To avoid such life-threatening situations, the Red Cross Society of Niger and the ICRC have renovated five wells – the only sources of water along the migrants' route.

For further information, please contact:

Oumarou Daddy Rabiou, ICRC Niamey, tel: +227 96 66 99 12
Wolde-Gabriel Saugeron, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 22 730 31 49 or +41 79 244 64 05