Agadez – "I can't give up now, especially since I have a child. At 29, I have to succeed at all costs," says Azeta*, a Burkinabe migrant in transit in Niger. Azeta, who is currently seeking a fresh start in her home country, is awaiting her voluntary return at the International Organization for Migration (IOM) transit centre for vulnerable migrants in Agadez.
In northern Niger lies the Saharan city of Agadez, at the crossroads of irregular migration flows for thousands of sub-Saharan migrants attempting to reach North Africa. Azeta never imagined that she would end up in Niger after undertaking a perilous journey to reach Europe. Her dreams and hopes of the European dream shattered when she ended up stranded in the Sahara Desert, at the border between Algeria and Niger.
“I was impressed by two friends who managed to reach Europe after crossing North Africa,” says Azeta. “I remember thinking, why not give it a try? How I ended up here in Agadez is still a shock to me,” she adds.
In her native Ouagadougou, Azeta saved enough money for her journey by making soap from scratch and selling it to friends.
"When you see your friend, who used to complain with you at home, do really well after reaching Europe and supporting her family, you wonder why you didn't join her," she explains.
“I was thinking about my son and about making him proud of me,” says Azeta.
Azeta informed only one person of her plan to leave; her mother. “When an African mother learns that her child is leaving for Europe, all she can do is pray that the journey will be safe,” she notes.
Azeta left in October 2021 to engage in a long journey and does not remember the number of villages she crossed and the number of buses she took to reach North Africa. But in her memory, there were “plenty, it was a long journey”. Niamey, the capital of Niger, was her first stop. She recalls how smugglers were offering different destinations to those willing to venture north.
After being abandoned in no-man's-land, the group of migrants accompanying her was forced to cross the desert by foot in search of help. Azeta felt unsafe as the only woman in the group.
Several days passed before she finally reached the town of Assamaka, in northern Niger. There, IOM provided her with necessities such as sleeping mats, blankets, brushes, toothpaste, soap and sponges, before informing her of the voluntary return assistance available to migrants if they wish to end their journey.
For Azeta, returning home was the reasonable and safer decision to make. She was then admitted to the IOM transit centre for vulnerable migrants in Assamaka, where she was provided with shelter, clothes, food and water. Having expressed her desire to integrate the assisted voluntary return programme, IOM referred Azeta to its transit centre for vulnerable migrants in Arlit, where migrants are registered to begin the assisted voluntary return process. After twelve days in the Assamaka transit centre, Azeta moved to the Arlit transit centre, 200 kilometres to the south.
During her two-month stay in Arlit, Azeta was supported in the issuing of her travel documents by the Burkina Faso consular mission in Niamey, facilitated by IOM. From there she was directed to the IOM transit centre for vulnerable migrants in Agadez. In Agadez, charter and commercial flights allow migrants to leave Niger for their country of origin. Azeta moved to the IOM transit centre for vulnerable migrants in Agadez in November 2022.
Azeta is among the 1,439 migrants staying at IOM’s transit centre for vulnerable migrants in Agadez. The centre is supported by the Cooperation on Migration and Partnerships to Achieve Sustainable Solutions initiative (COMPASS), funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands.
In Niger, COMPASS ensures the protection of people on the move, combats human trafficking and smuggling, and supports the dignified voluntary return of migrants while promoting their sustainable reintegration.
Since 2021, the initiative has facilitated the voluntary return of over 1,000 migrants from Niger, provided direct assistance to 4,914 migrants as well as reintegration assistance to 40 victims of trafficking, sensitized 2,346 persons on access to justice, and trained over 60 government officials in the prevention, identification, investigation and prosecution of trafficking in persons.
“Now I just want to go home,” says Azeta. “If I had the opportunity to go back in time, I would have saved the money I invested in the trip to open a store and take a training course to perfect my craft.”
* Name has been changed to protect her identity.
Written by Mahfoudh Hannani, Communications and Media Officer at IOM Niger