83 migrants in distress have been rescued by IOM’s Search and Rescue (SAR) team operating in Niger’s Northern Agadez region. The exercise took place on 3 September. IOM worked in collaboration with the General Directorate for Civil Protection (DGPC) in Niger, with support from the European Union.
The rescue took place in a remote stretch of the searing Sahara Desert, where temperatures frequently surpass 38° Celsius (100° Fahrenheit) and where hundreds of migrants are believed to have perished from dehydration, vehicle accidents and assault in recent years.
The migrants IOM rescued had been bound for Libya. They included 42 males – mostly Nigerian, but also several from Togo, Mali and Ghana – as well as 41 Nigerian females, including twin 4-year-old girls.
A week prior, in the transit town of Agadez, the group boarded four pickup trucks taking alternative routes towards Libya to avoid detection by law enforcement and security forces. Witnesses from among those rescued told IOM staff that last Tuesday (1/09), their smugglers made a stopover some 230 km north of Dirkou, another Sahara crossroad.
It is a common occurrence for vehicles carrying migrants to break down in the desert and for smugglers to get lost or abandon their passengers fearing checkpoints or military patrols.
After leaving Dirkou, witnesses explained the smugglers spotted military vehicles on the road up ahead and feared the authorities had spotted them and their migrant cargo. Rather than risk arrest, the migrants explained, their four drivers abandoned their passengers, after first taking all their belongings.
“We were stranded for three days without food or water. We searched for water, but all we found were dirty wells used by livestock. So, we were not able to drink at all,” recalled one witness, 25-year-old “Dennis”, from Nigeria. “People were collapsing left and right. I started crying when I saw the cars approaching, hoping help was coming.”
When the rescue team found the group, many were dehydrated, injured and in need of immediate medical assistance.
After receiving water, food and medical care, the migrants were transported to a COVID-19 confinement site in Dirkou where they will undergo a 14-day quarantine period. Seven migrants are currently being medically assisted at the health centre in Dirkou.
After their two-week quarantine ends, migrants who wish to return to their country of origin can opt to move to IOM’s transit centre in Dirkou and join the Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration (AVRR) programme, implemented under the EU-IOM Joint Initiative for Migrant Protection and Reintegration.
IOM and the DGPC have been conducting joint SAR missions in Dirkou since 2016. SAR operations around the cities of Agadez and Dirkou are crucial given the dangerous desert conditions. At regular intervals, teams are dispatched on migration routes to search for migrants in distress.
Given the vastness of the Agadez region which spans 703,000 km² – desert, for the most part – an area larger than Afghanistan, finding and reaching migrants in distress can be a daunting task. On these routes, migrants and SAR teams are exposed to many challenges, such as scorching temperatures, poor road conditions and a volatile security context.
“The migrants rescued last Thursday were found in an isolated place far from any form of life,” said Boubacar Djaram, Mayor of Dirkou. “Without this collaboration between IOM and Civil Protection, these people would have perished without a trace.”
IOM deploys community mobilizers in strategic locations along the main migration crossroads in Niger to sensitize migrants about irregular migration. They work on the frontlines during SAR operations, assisting migrants with food, water, first aid and information about quarantine, transit centres and AVRR.
“Participating in SAR operations is one of our most important tasks,” said Tijani Boukary, IOM community mobilizer in Dirkou. “Our commitment to migrants goes far beyond disseminating information; we get involved wherever we are needed, even if that means working in insecure contexts.”
So far in 2020, 404 migrants have been assisted through SAR operations in Agadez and Dirkou. Since 2016, 1,876 stranded migrants have been rescued in Niger’s Ténéré Desert through joint operations organized by Niger’s Civil Protection, local authorities and IOM.
“It is impossible to know how many migrants have died attempting to cross the Sahara. Many bodies are buried during sandstorms, never to be found again,” said Barbara Rijks, IOM’s Chief of Mission in Niger. “With support from our partners, IOM and the Government of Niger are making extraordinary efforts to ensure that these life-saving operations can reach migrants in distress in a timely manner.”
IOM launches open South America portal
Buenos Aires – IOM, the International Organization for Migration, this week launched the Open South America Portal, a web platform providing migrants and stakeholders in the region with access to reliable and timely information on human mobility restrictions and health and safety measures adopted by governments in the COVID-19 pandemic.
Open South America, available in Spanish, English and Portuguese, shares official information by country on the latest measures, including border restrictions, quarantine requirements and COVID-19 tests for migrants and travellers.
The portal also provides updated information on authorized entry points and key places for travellers and migrants, such as consulates, migrant care and health centres, airports, border crossings points and ports. This information can be explored through an interactive map.
The platform, funded by the IOM Development Fund, is also accessible to vulnerable migrants who may be stranded or are at risk of receiving misinformation on migration.
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, South America has been one of the most impacted regions worldwide. According to the World Health Organization figures, as of 8 July 2021 there were 33,475,765 COVID-19 cumulative cases in the region, which represents 89 per cent of the total cases in Latin America, and 18 per cent of all infections recorded globally.
Countries such as Brazil, Peru, Colombia and Ecuador all experienced severe outbreaks. For example, Brazil currently reports the third highest number of cumulative cases (18,855,015) and second highest death toll (526,892) globally.
“Open South America will facilitate orderly, regular and responsible migration in South America amid the uncertain times of COVID-19 and after the pandemic,” said Minister Ana Laura Cachaza, General Director of Consular Affairs of the Government of Argentina.
“Migrants’ access to up-to-date information through innovative online tools is essential considering the changing migration dynamic in the region due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Marcelo Pisani, IOM Regional Director for South America.
29,000 Nigerians, Ghanaians, Somalians, other Africans migrated through the Mediterranean Sea to Europe in 2021 —IOM
The International Organisation for Migration has said that 29,000 individuals including Nigerians, Ghanaians, Somalians and other Africans have emigrated to Europe through the Mediterranean Sea this year.
About 13,000 were arrested by the coast guards and returned home while 761 migrants were said to have perished in the sea.
Disclosing this to journalists in Abuja on Friday, the Chief of Mission, IOM Nigeria, Mr Franz Celestin, said less than five per cent of migrants usually made it to Europe, adding that the vast majority stay in Africa.
He further said that a lot of migrants were trafficked within the Economic Community of West African States, adding that Mali was the number one destination point for trafficked Nigerian women.
Responding to questions on the number of people who have undertaken the perilous trip to Europe through the Mediterranean, the IOM Chief said, “A combination of unemployment and underemployment is pushing people to migrate.
“In this year, 29,000 migrants from Sub-Sahara Africa have migrated to Europe through the Mediterranean. About 13,000 were intercepted by the coastguard while 761 died.”
Celestin stressed the importance of tackling human trafficking which he said grossed about $150 billion annually.
“Traffickers make a lot of money and they would continue to do it until a coordinated response is evolved to stop them. We are collaborating with Interpol in this respect; we are connected to the Interpol i/247 database. We connected the MIDAS to the Interpol database where we pass the information on traffickers to the Interpol,” he stated.
Celestin explained that the IOM has been involved in the biometric registration of children in the North-East, noting that the agency has registered no fewer than 17,053 children in 18 different internally displaced person camps between 2019 and May 2021 in Borno State.
The agency chief also disclosed that IOM was involved in the G7 Famine Prevention and Humanitarian Compact for North-East.
FG condemns killing of Nigerian footballer in UK
The Federal government has condemned the alleged killing of a Nigerian Footballer, Kelvin Igweani, by the UK police.
Recall that Igweani, a Nigerian Footballer, was shot dead by officers, who attended a call out to a house, where a child was found with serious injuries.
Reacting, Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa, Chairman/CEO, Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM), in Abuja on Wednesday described the incident as very unfortunate,and sad.
Dabiri-Erewa condoled with the family of the deceased and the Nigerian communities in the UK while praying that God grants rest to the soul of the departed.
“We call on the UK government for a thorough and proper investigation to be carried out on the incident,” the statement added.
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