October 27, 2021

UN Migration Agency Search and Rescue Operation Saves 600 Stranded Migrants in Sahara Desert

4 min read
Humanitarian Emergencies, Missing Migrants

Sunday morning (25/06), 24 migrants alerted authorities in Niger that they had been stranded in the desert. It is not clear for how long they had been walking in the deserts of central Niger, near Seguedine. The 24 were taken to Seguedine, where one died on arrival, making the total number of survivors, 23. Among the survivors, there are migrants from Gambia, Nigeria, Senegal and Cote d’Ivoire.

Migrants stranded in the desert. Photo Credit: IRIN

They had been in a group of 75 migrants in three different cars, eventually abandoned by smugglers during the journey north. The authorities went back to where they had found the survivors to look for the other 51 who had been in the group, but they could not be found due to a sand storm. The migrants were presumed dead and search missions resumed once the sand storm ended – the bodies have yet to be found. IOM teams on the ground in Dirkou went this morning to pick up the 23 survivors and take them to IOM’s transit centre in Dirkou.

At IOM’s transit centres across Niger migrants receive direct assistance including water, food, shelter, and medical and psychological assistance. They are also assisted with voluntary return and reintegration upon their return.

More than 600 lives have been saved since April 2017 through a new search and rescue operation run by the UN Migration Agency (IOM) in Niger. The operation is financed by the Government of the Netherlands and the European Union (EU) Trust Fund.

Smugglers are exploring new migratory routes along the Northern Corridor, the busiest and most important transport route in East and Central Africa. IOM’s new operation provides life-saving assistance to migrants in distress in areas where there is limited humanitarian presence.

In April 2017, IOM launched a new project financed by the Government of the Netherlands: “Migrants Rescue and Assistance in Agadez Region” (MIRAA). The MIRAA project will last for 12 months, and aims to ensure the protection of migrants in hard-to-reach areas while also strengthening the management of migration by the Government of Niger.

“We are enhancing our capacity to assist vulnerable migrants stranded in Northern Agadez, towards the Niger-Libya border,” said Giuseppe Loprete, IOM Niger Chief of Mission. “Saving lives in the desert is becoming more urgent than ever. Since the beginning of the year we have been receiving frequent calls to rescue victims who embark on this route‎,” Loprete adds.

MIRAA is complementary to the larger initiative “Migrant Resource and Response Mechanism” (MRRM), developed by IOM Niger and financed by the EU Trust Fund. It aims to bring together in one mechanism a wide range of services and assistance for migrants, including assisted voluntary return to their countries of origin and reintegration once they return.

A migrant being assisted by an IOM staff member in Seguedine. Photo IOM 2017
A migrant being assisted by an IOM staff member in Seguedine. Photo: IOM 2017

Adaora*, 22 years old, is one of the survivors of a rescue mission on 28 May, and the only woman to have survived from her group. Adaora left Nigeria in early April hoping for a better future in Europe. There were 50 migrants on the pick-up truck when it left Agadez for Libya, but only six are still alive today.

“We were in the desert for ten days. After five days, the driver abandoned us. He left with all of our belongings, saying he was going to pick us up in a couple of hours, but he never did,” Adaora recalls.

Adaora had left Nigeria with two close female friends, who both died in the desert. “They were too weak to keep going,” she sadly remembers. “We buried a few, but there were just too many to bury and we didn’t have the strength to do it,” Adaora adds.

During the next two days, 44 of the migrants died which persuaded the six left to start walking to look for help. “We had to drink our own pee to survive,” she says.

“I couldn’t walk anymore. I wanted to give up,” she recalls. Two other migrants carried her until a truck driver picked them up and took them to local authorities who then alerted IOM staff in Dirkou in the Agadez Region of north-eastern Niger.

By the time the six survivors reached IOM’s transit centre in Dirkou, Adaora was unconscious. She received medical assistance, and once recovered, she gave a detailed account of her experience to both the authorities and IOM staff. Two of the other migrants from the group went back with IOM staff and the authorities to find the bodies and identify the victims.

After having received medical assistance at IOM’s transit centres in both Dirkou and Agadez, Adaora is currently recovering at IOM’s transit centre for migrants in Niamey, awaiting her imminent voluntary return to Nigeria.

Adaora says she had no idea what the route was going to be like, otherwise she would have never left Nigeria. Going back, she wants to continue her work as a nurse. “I think it’s important we all assist each other when we are in need,” she says.

On 9 June, another 92 migrants were also rescued through an IOM search and rescue operation; among them were 30 women and children.

*Adaora’s name has been changed to protect her identity

Published courtesy of IOM

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