Niamey | Coronavirus or not, thousands of Africans continue to attempt the perilous crossing of the desert through the north of the Niger and Libya in order to reach the shores of the mediterranean and then Europe.
“Gambians, Senegalese, Malians… They are still determined to go there. A migrant told me: “I prefer to die of coronavirus that live the misery”,” said Alassane Mamane a retired civil servant, living in Agadez, the crossroads of the desert and point of departure of many migrants to Libya.
Pass through the mesh of the net is more and more complicated. In addition to the anti-migrants in place since 2015, with patrols strengthened, the security forces have “yet intensified surveillance to enforce the measure for the closure of borders in the fight against the coronavirus,” said a local official.
The ex-smuggler Idrissa Salifou: “Before we could move “a little bit”, but because of the anti-coronavirus (border closures), the road is totally blocked. The military rake along the border of night and day. On the other side also, the Libyans have become very vigilant”, he stressed.
The Niger, a sahelian country among the poorest in the world, was officially registered as 781 cases of coronavirus and 42 deaths.
Stream not dried up
Niger has already declared a state of emergency, closed borders and isolated the capital from the rest of the country.
Libya, which had become a hell for migrants since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, is also not spared by the virus.
Yet, “people (migrants) go to Dirkou and Madama to the libyan border (to hope to enter in Libya) but provisions have been taken to prevent this from happening, note Bourkari Mamane, the mayor of Agadez, the largest city in the north of Niger.
However, the flow is far from being dried up. The migrants “are attempts galore to enter in Libya. They manage to work around the barriers (security). The unlucky ones are caught by military patrols”, explains to the AFP Boubakar Jerome, mayor of the city of Dirkou, a town close to Libya.
In less than two months, more than 300 migrants have been intercepted by the nigerian army on the libyan border.
This week, the 33 stowaways have been caught in the same area, taking the mayor.
“They don’t care about the coronavirus. In Agadez, some of the “ghettos” (inner courtyards which are hosted migrants) have re-opened and the migrants await the slightest opportunity to rush in the desert,” attests Bachir Amma, the president of the Association of ex-smugglers of migrants.
Idrissa Salifou, the ex-smuggler recounts: “Recently, a sixty-vehicle convoy of migrants have managed to enter Libya, but they were soon picked up by border guards libyans and taken to one of their cities.”
In Niger, the migrants rescued or intercepted in the desert are placed in quarantine for 14 days at temporary sites in the North where the International Office for Migration (IOM) has welcomed some 1,600 migrants “stranded in the desert” since the closure of the borders at the end of march.
A total of 764 migrants whose 391 Niger, 140 of Mali and 101 of Guinea, had been quarantined at Assamaka, on the border with Algeria. Among them, children, pregnant women and injured people, details of the IOM.
Immediately out of isolation, some of the migrants “retake the quiz for their chance,” said Boubakar Jerome.
This week, the un agency has launched “an urgent appeal” to donors for “extra help” 10 million dollars to respond to the needs of migrants.
She is said to have rented the facilities, “additional”, and strengthened prevention measures in the six transit centers “that are currently at the maximum of their ability”.
In order to discourage smugglers, Niamey has voted in 2015 a law criminalizing as a crime in the smuggling of migrants, punishable by sentences of up to 30 years in prison. Beginning in 2019, the president of Niger Mahamadou Issoufou welcomed the “plan” anti-migrants, supported by the european Union (EU), which has reduced the flow of migrants passing through Niger of 100 000 to 150 000 per year, until 2016, to 5000 to 10 000 migrants per year today.
On a visit to Niamey, the Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte was also pleased with the reduction of “80 %” in 2018 landings of illegal immigrants on the Italian coast.
More patrols in the desert, the isolation of Niamey, the rest of the country (prohibition to leave or enter without permission) changed the game.
A lot of west african migrants passed through Niamey before joining Agadez or the doors of the desert.
“With the isolation of Niamey, more and more migrants have changed route: they spend now by the Nigeria whose boundaries are more porous,” says Bachir Amma, the ex-smuggler.
Boubakar Jerome the mayor of Dirkou agrees: “There are a thousand roads: the lucky few manage to sneak in order to enter Libya.”