NIAMEY, Niger, June 6, 2020/ — On 4/ June 2020,, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) assisted 179 Malian nationals stranded in Niger with their voluntary return to Mali, thanks to the European Union’s financial support. The migrants had been waiting at IOM’s transit centres in Niamey and Agadez for almost three months due to the border closures decreed by the government to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The charter was the first movement by air, facilitated thanks to an agreement between the Governments of Niger and Mali. Nonetheless, currently another 1,658 migrants from several, mainly West African, countries remain in IOM transit centres, waiting for travel restrictions to lift so they, too, can return to their countries of origin.
These stranded migrants are receiving immediate assistance at six IOM transit centres and additional quarantine sites across Niger. At its centres, IOM provides shelter, food, water, core relief items, psychosocial and medical assistance. The centres have been operating at full capacity since the start of the health crisis, so IOM has also stepped up infection, prevention and control (IPC) measures.
“It has already been three months that I have been staying in this transit centre in Niamey,” said Moussa, one of seven unaccompanied migrant children who travelled on Thursday’s charter to Mali. “I can’t wait to finally be back home and see my family.”
The Government of Niger agreed on 21 April to open a humanitarian corridor to facilitate the voluntary return of migrants stranded in Niger. The first two land movements took place in the last two weeks and saw the return of 43 migrants to Burkina Faso and 58 migrants to Benin.
“We are extremely grateful for the collaboration between the two governments and for IOM’s support all along the way,” declared Issa Issiaka Camara, representative for the embassy of Mali in Niger. “We are happy to see today with our own eyes the result of our joint efforts and to be able to put a smile on the migrants’ faces knowing they will soon be reunited with their families.”
Upon arrival, the Malians were received by national authorities and IOM staff who escorted returnees to their transit centres. There they will remain for two weeks to complete a mandatory quarantine.
IOM is providing the returnees with food, shelter, core relief items and hygiene kits. At the end of the quarantine period, the migrants will return to their communities of origin to be reunited with their families and will be eligible for reintegration assistance.
“Together with the Governments of Mali and Niger, and with the great support of the European Union, IOM’s teams in the two countries have worked closely together to make this monumental movement happen. Despite mobility restrictions, we know that migrants have been desperate to get back home,” said Pascal Reyntjens, IOM’s Chief of Mission in Mali. “We are hoping that this is the first of many more returns to take place in the next few weeks.”
Migrants are assisted at IOM’s transit centres and temporary humanitarian sites in Niger under IOM’s Migrant Resource and Response Mechanism supported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands and the EU-IOM Joint Initiative for Migrant Protection and Reintegration supported by the European Union.