Agadez/Niamey, 11 October 2023 – In Niger, time passes slowly for the migrants hosted in transit centres managed by the International Organization for Migration (IOM). Some find solace in a game of football or try their hand at basketball or volleyball. A few opt to watch TV while others immerse themselves in music, a board game or a book to escape the endless wait that has come to define their daily lives.
Over 5,000 migrants from more than 25 countries currently find themselves in a state of limbo at IOM’s transit centres in Niger. While each one has a unique story, they have been brought together by a similar fate. Once their migration dreams were cut short, they found themselves stranded in Niger, facing uncertainty due to the political upheaval that rocked the country in July.
Niger's extensive 5,700-kilometer border, stretching across seven neighbouring states, places the country at the crossroads of migration routes in West and Central Africa. The country is a key point of origin, destination, and transit for thousands of migrants from Sub-Saharan Africa.
Patrick, from Sierra Leone, made his way to Niger after his European dream ended in Algeria. “It’s been seven months that I’ve been here,” he says at IOM’s transit centre in Agadez. “All I can do is pray for the international community to find a solution so that we can finally return home.”
At the transit centres, every day is a battle against boredom and negative thinking as migrants seek comfort in recreational activities to keep their minds off from the uncertainty of their return. The prolonged wait has only amplified the stress that they have endured during their journeys.
Since 2016, IOM has supported over 100,000 migrants at its transit centres in Niger, including 86,000 people assisted with voluntary return and reintegration to their countries of origin. Idrissa Sompare, IOM Programme Manager for the Protection and Assistance of Migrants in Niger, stresses the need to advocate for international collaboration between countries of origin and Niger to facilitate voluntary returns.
“These agreements would ensure the safe and dignified return of stranded migrants,” he explains. “There are other challenges like delays in obtaining travel documents and logistical issues, but discussions are underway with authorities in the migrants’ countries of origin, so we are optimistic that they will soon be able to return home.”
As days turn into weeks and months, the uncertainty sometimes leads to tensions and frustrations among residents. Recognizing the emotional toll caused by their grueling journeys and lengthy stays in Niger, IOM has bolstered its mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) to help alleviate the stress and tension among migrants.
A dedicated team of 13 professionals tirelessly works to implement MHPSS activities in the transit centres with the support of service providers. Despite the staff’s efforts to organize a wide range of activities, meeting the needs of thousands of migrants is challenging.
Due to limited resources, both the frequency and variety of activities had to be reduced, with a current ratio of one dedicated MHPSS staff member for every 380 migrants. This has placed additional pressure on staff who are overstretched as they strive to provide essential care and exacerbates the existing strain and tensions within the transit centres.
Between 2019 and 2023, more than 16,000 MHPSS activities have been carried out at IOM’s transit centres in Niger to address the wide range of psychosocial needs of migrants and their families. These include individual counselling sessions and referrals to specialized mental health care, family mediation, psychosocial support groups, and integration of psychosocial support in livelihood activities.
By facilitating access to mobile phones, IOM helps migrants re-establish vital connections with their loved ones, allowing them to seek and find comfort from afar. Additionally, the Red Cross conducts regular visits to the Agadez and Arlit transit centres, offering migrants the opportunity to contact their relatives.
Salifou is able to reconnect with his loved ones back home in Benin by making good use of these communication channels while staying at one of IOM’s transit centres in Niamey. “I regularly call my family as I know my parents’ numbers by heart,” he says. Salifou, the eldest of his siblings, embarked on this risky journey to support his mother who relies on a modest income.
However, hope is slowly waning for Salifou and envisioning a future while in limbo has not been easy. “My family is very concerned about my situation and I share their worry because it’s not clear when I will be able to leave Niger,” he says.
The fear of returning home “empty-handed” weighs heavily on the minds of many migrants, who fear being excluded by their families and communities on top of dealing with the aftermath of their difficult migration journeys. “For these migrants, returning home is a challenging and daunting process,” explains Manon Dos Santos, IOM’s MHPSS Officer in Niger.
“In our counselling sessions, we address not only their daily stress but also the emotional, social, and cultural aspects tied to their journey and concerns about returning home,” she adds. “This support extends beyond their return, as IOM staff remain steadfast in ensuring the psychosocial support necessary for a sustainable reintegration into their communities.”
Written by Aïssatou Sy, Public Information Officer with IOM Niger