NIAMEY, Niger, February 23, 2018–Policies that prioritize control at the expense of the safety and dignity of migrants can be cruel, counterproductive, and contribute to increased suffering among people making their way towards the north African coast.
This was the assessment of Francesco Rocca, the President of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), after the first part of his four day visit to Niger.
“It’s not a choice between security and dignity,” said Mr Rocca, at the end of his visit to Agadez. “We have to reject, absolutely, the idea that the decision by governments to reduce or constrain migration can ever justify the increased suffering of migrants”.
Mr Rocca visited Agadez in northern Niger with Ali Bandiare, the President of the Red Cross of Niger. Agadez is a city on the edge of the Sahara Desert and on a major route for people travelling from West Africa to Libya and then beyond. Mr Rocca met migrants who spoke of being stranded in Niger, unable to head north because of increased security, and unable to return home.
“There are migration policies that have failed for decades now,” said Mr Rocca. “People still want to move. What changes is that they are forced to take even greater risks, to take even more dangerous routes.
“People in Agadez told me that the Sahara is just as deadly as the Mediterranean. The difference is that we don’t know how many people have died there, or what inhumanity they have faced,” he said.
Mr Rocca chose Niger as the destination for his first visit to Africa as IFRC President because of the country’s prominent role as a transit point for many migrants. In 2017, an estimated 350,000 people travelled through Niger. However, in late 2015, a new law to control the movement of people, saw the number of detected migrants drop by 80 per cent. People making the journey were forced to find alternative routes.
He called for a more effective humanitarian response in Niger, built on increased investment in local capacity.
“We must rethink the humanitarian intervention, starting from the empowerment of local actors, who are best placed to respond properly to humanitarian challenges. Localization is a key word: this is why IFRC wants to strengthen its support to the Red Cross of Niger,” said Mr Rocca.
“We call all our partners and stakeholders to support our efforts. Supporting our National Societies means supporting neutral, independent and impartial aid to everyone in need, including people on the move and local communities. Vulnerable people in Niger must not be left alone and need our engagement to guarantee human dignity and ensure protection and essential services.”
Rocca also highlighted the importance of providing accurate and trustworthy information to people on the move, including information about risks, services, resources, rights and responsibilities.