afrol News, 27 April - The governments of the poor Sahelian states of Niger and Chad are struggling to accommodate a total of 75,000 refugees crossing the Sahara desert from Libya.
According to the latest statistic update from the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) offices in Niamey, Niger, some 54,200 persons have fled Libya into this impoverished Sahelian nation only. Niger authorities even put the number at 57,000.
Most of those fleeing Libya, taking great risks crossing the Sahara desert, are Nigerien nationals - mostly migrant workers in Libya. However, almost 4,000 non-Nigeriens - mostly nationals of other African countries - have also reached Niger.
Those arriving Niger's northern border, in the middle of the Sahara desert, are mostly deprived of all their values and need assistance to reach their final destinations in Niger or beyond.
Niger authorities and the IOM operate several reception centres in northern Niger. Here, the migrants are registered, given necessary aid and helped reaching their original home.
The transfer of non-Nigerians from these centres to their home countries has only just started, with a few hundreds being flown to Senegal, The Gambia, Guinea-Bissau and other West African countries by the IOM. Lack of funds is limiting the repatriation operation.
The government in Niamey and IOM are now appealing for donor funds to run the overstretched reception centres and repatriation operations. IOM officers on the ground report of lack of medicines, food and clean water.
Niger has even experienced an influx of refugees from Côte d'Ivoire, following the conflict there. Côte d'Ivoire and Libya have been the main destinations for Nigerien labour.
The return of tens of thousands of Nigerien workers from these two countries - most of which normally would send a part of their wage to their families back home - therefore also will have a negative impact on the national economy of Niger.
Chad repatriation operations
Also in neighbouring Chad, which also shares a large Saharan border with Libya, the influx of refugees is large. Around 17,000 persons have entered the country from Libya, adding to eastern Chad's refugee crises related to the Darfur conflict.
Most refugees reaching Chad's northern border towns of Faya-Largeau and Kalait are Chadian nationals working in Libya. A few hundred citizens of other African nations have also reached northern Chad, awaiting onward transportation assistance.
IOM in N'djamena, Chad, reports that the organisation is currently organising 10 charter flights from Faya- Largeau to the capital "to assist weak and vulnerable returnees who cannot be transported by road." To date, IOM has provided onward assistance to more than 3,500 returnees to various destinations in Chad.
By now, more than 610,000 migrants from more than 27 countries have fled Libya and crossed into Tunisia, Egypt, Niger, Algeria, Chad, Italy and Sudan. Tunisia and Egypt have by far received the largest numbers of refugees.
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