IOM's Support Key to Assistance for Unaccompanied or Separated Children in Niger

Published Date: 
Fri, 07/30/2021 - 19:30


Like many unaccompanied minors, Djibril, a 17-year-old Cameroonian, left home on a journey through Nigeria, Niger, to Algeria, without warning his family of his plans for a better life in Europe.

He made it to Algiers but recently flew back to Cameroon from the Niamey transit centre in Niger under assisted voluntary return organized by the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

Djibril was lucky to escape the high risks of serious abuse, exploitation and discrimination other adolescents and young people on the move face along the Central Mediterranean Route (a migration route across the Mediterranean Sea through Libya and Algeria).

About one third of migrants identified in Niger by IOM between 2016 and 2019 are children, most from Mali, Guinea and Cameroon. Unaccompanied and separated children are the most difficult to locate and on the recent International Day of the African Child, IOM stressed the urgent need for better care for children on the move, including those who are unaccompanied and/or separated.

Sixty-two per cent of adolescents (14–17 years) interviewed reported that they were detained against their will during their journey. Forty-seven per cent reported being constrained to forced labour, according to a joint survey conducted by IOM and UNICEF in 2017 on children on the move across the Mediterranean Sea. The survey showed that eight in ten children were victims of exploitation along the Central Mediterranean Route.

Recreational activities are organized in Niamey transit centre. Photo: OIM/Daniel Kouawo

Djibril wouldn't say how he collected the 500 euros he spent during his journey. “Before we reached Tamanrasset, we stayed for several months in In Guezzam, a village in Algeria after the Nigerien border; we gave money to an elder brother in Cameroon who sent it to us for every phase, but there is no international money transfer system there. We had to work in construction sites for a long time. We paid for our accommodation at 500 dinars a week. Eventually, we were able to reach Tamanrasset, then Algiers. From there we hoped to reach Tunisia, and cross into Europe.”

After several weeks at Niamey transit centre, Djibril had mixed feelings shortly before his departure for Douala. “On the one hand, I am happy to be reunited with my family. But on the other hand, I lost everything.”

Djibril still wants to go to Europe, but now he says, “through regular channels”. Disappointment and shame are part of the day-to-day challenges in transit centres, especially for adolescents. Many have had difficult times and need psychological support on a daily basis. In addition, each child is monitored individually by the specialised protection assistant.

To determine the best interests of unaccompanied children and find a sustainable solution for their future, IOM traces their family back to the country of origin, an often long and laborious process. Once completed, an evaluation is submitted to the Juvenile Court in Niger, which ultimately determines the best interest of the child.

“The Nigerien Government has made great efforts in recent years to integrate child protection into its legal system, and IOM is supporting it to provide better care for minors on the move,” said Barbara Rijks, IOM Chief of Mission in Niger.

In Niger, national legislation provides very few specific rights for unaccompanied and separated children. IOM Niger has produced a manual for judges of minors, as a tool to provide better assistance and protection. A Government plan to introduce a specialized jurisdiction for children has not yet been implemented and this work is carried out in conjunction with the Ministry of Justice.

For more information, please contact Dorothée Thiénot at IOM Niger Tel: +227 80 06 65 89, email: