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The impact of the Libyan crisis on Niger

The armed conflict in Libya has turned what once seemed to be a promised land for people from Niger into a nightmare. Waves of African migrants are fleeing from abuse.

Before the war broke out in Libya, Muammar Gaddafi invited thousands of young West Africans to his country. Niger’s northern city of Agadez was the meeting point for the migrants. On their way through the Sahara, many of these young people risked their lives in the hope of a better future. To deal with the large number of people now fleeing from Libya, the government of Niger has set up a coordination group to keep an eye on the situ­ation. The experts say that some 100,000 migrants from sub-Saharan countries have fled Libya, 80,000 of whom are from Niger. Without money, exhausted and traumatised, the refugees find shelter in emergency camps set up in the border town of Dirkou in the Agadez region. Other camps have also been set up in Tahoua and Niamey, the capital of Niger.

Niger is working with international organisations such as the IOM, OCHA, WFP and Red Cross on the committee to organise aid. The committee has built a number of emergency camps to provide the refugees with food and medicine before they are sent on to their various destinations – along with a derisory three euros
(2,000 CFA francs) per person.

The transit camps in Dirkou and Agadez are overfilled with refugees. More continue to arrive. The migrants are packed in like sardines, creating a feeding ground for disease. Health authorities in Agadez say there have already been dozens of cases of measles and meningitis.

Difficulties for the new government

In addition to social difficulties, Libya’s civil war has also caused economic and political damage in Niger. Security is deterio­rating. It is worrisome that some of the refugees served as fighters in Libya and may be prone to act violently. For northern Niger, Libya used to be the main food supplier. The city of Agadez used to be a meeting point between the northern and southern Sahara but is now hardly recognisable.

The region also has yet to properly ­recover from the catastrophic conse­quences of the armed conflict in 2007. The war in Libya could make the desert region, which the capital city of Niamey already has trouble controlling, ungovernable. In April, Brigi Rafini, a Tuareg from Agadez, won the national elections and accordingly became Prime Minister. He probably benefited from security worries.

The masses of refugees in Niger, one of the poorest states in the world, are a huge problem for the new administration. Politicians do not know how to turn the dire situation around and inspire hope. Agali Abdoulkader, who heads the committee for refugee problems, says some € 2 million is needed to avert disaster. This sum is modest by international standards – but a huge amount in a country that lacks everything. Thousands of refugees are waiting to return to their families – many of whom, however, used to depend on the remittances the migrants can no longer send home.

Prime Minister Brigi Rafini told the press that the chances are good that the refu­gees will be socially and economically integrated at home. But the desperate refu­gees returning from Libya have to be very patient. In view of Niger’s empty public coffers, their immediate outlook is yet more misery.

Yahouza Sadissou

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