Gov’t delegation visits Agadez as IOM facilitates return of 30 Gambians

Feb 4, 2021, 12:28 PM | Article By: Sanna Camara

A delegation of the Gambia government that was dispatched to gather first-hand information about situation of Gambians in Niger has gone as far as the International Organisation for Migration transit center in Agadez, in the North region.

According to the IOM, Niger is geographically positioned at the migratory crossroads of West and Central Africa. It is a transit country for West African migrants travelling to and from Algeria and Libya.

For example, the UN migration agency recorded a total of 60,970 migrants passing through the transit towns of Arlit and Séguédine in the Agadez region of Niger between February and April 2016 one. Of this total, 44,890 were recorded leaving Niger, while 16,080 were migrants entering the country. 

Hence in looking to accomplish such a mission, the delegation was escorted by officials of The Gambia Consul to the region where the conducted meetings with the governor and migrants in the IOM transit center.

"The governor assured us that they will do everything humanly possible to ensure that Gambians rights are protected," said Saikou Trawally, Deputy Permanent Secretary at the Office of The Vice President.

Agadez is the capital of Aïr, one of the traditional Tuareg-Berber Federations and the fifth largest city in Niger with a population of over 110, 000. It lies in the Sahara desert and due to its high record of terrorism activities, the U.S. is operating a $100-million, “Air Base 201”-dedicated drone airbase from which it can more easily monitor terrorist activities in West and North Africa.

A Government Task force

Among the government delegation to Agadez was a representative from the Immigration Department who issued travel documents to the 30 Gambians in Agadez.

The Gambia does not have a consular presence in Niger. Hence the delegation, among other objectives, aimed to strengthen migrant protection mechanisms, coordinate ways to issue travel documents, and explore the feasibility of opening a consular presence.

Mr. Trawally’s office is chairing the government constituted taskforce comprising representatives of the Office of The President, ministries of Interior and Foreign Affairs, Youth and Sports and the National Youth Council. The task force also includes the Ministry of Trade, Employment and Regional Integration as well as the Immigration Department.

The group’s task includes advising government on migration matters especially the return and reintegration of migrants. Since its inception about two years ago, it conducted only a few meetings “before any major work was conducted,” a source confirmed in November 2020.

In recent months, the National Coordination Mechanism for migration management that was established by the government begun active engagements with bilateral and multilateral partners of government like the EU as a bloc and some of its member states like Switzerland, and the IOM, around operationalising migration policies and programmes of government.

 Delegation Met Governor of Agadez

On February 2nd 2021, IOM Niger tweeted that The Gambian consulate delegation has been to #Agadez where they met the governor and migrants in the IOM transit center.

"The governor assured us that they will do everything humanly possible to ensure that Gambians rights are protected," IOM Niger quoted Mr. Saikou Trawally as saying.

As they tweeted this, a flight carrying 30 Gambians who were stranded enroute Europe through the Sahara desert was heading to Banjul. It landed at the Banjul International Airport at 6.55pm where IOM Gambia officials were on the ground to receive and process them.

Their costly attempts to reach Europe via the irregular route were unsuccessful. Without travel documents, this group were in the IOM transit centre in Agadez where they were provided assistance before their return.

“After becoming stranded in Niger and staying at OIM Niger's transit center in Agadez, 30 Gambians were able to return home. The return respected all COVID-19 protocols, including testing, post-arrival health screening and follow-up monitoring,” IOM Gambia said.

They requested for help to return

Many of them were desperate to return after being on the journey that sometimes costs entire family fortunes for so many of them.

“They requested for assistance to return,” Miko Alazas, Communications Officer of IOM Gambia explained on Tuesday evening as the flight landed at the airport.

Miko Alazas further explained that all the returnees received post-arrival assistance, including meals, hygiene supplies and temporary overnight accommodation. “They will also receive an orientation on reintegration assistance they can receive in the coming weeks,” he added.

“Through the EU-IOM Joint Initiative for Migrant Protection and Reintegration, IOM supported a government consular visit to Niger last week. A representative from the Immigration Department issued travel documents to enable their return," he said.

IOM Niger on Tuesday tweeted at 5pm that the government delegation met Nigerien authorities "to see how they can facilitate the return of Gambians who want to voluntarily return to their communities of origin.”

"Our mission was to better understand the current situation of Gambians living in Niger, and discuss matters related to their welfare," Mr. Saikou Trawally, Deputy Permanent Secretary, Office of the Vice President explained.