Thousands of migrants deported from Algeria have been abandoned in the desert of northern Niger. MSF calls on the Economic Community of West African States to urgently provide protection for people stranded in precarious conditions in Assamaka.
Thousands of migrants deported from Algeria and abandoned in the desert of northern Niger are stranded without access to shelter, healthcare, protection, or basic necessities, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said today.
Between 11 January and 3 March 2023, 4,677 migrants arrived into Assamaka – a town in northern Niger’s Agadez region – on foot after being deported from Algeria and stranded in the desert. Fewer than 15 per cent of them were able to access shelter or protection when they arrived.
MSF calls on the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to immediately provide protection for the people abandoned in extremely precarious conditions in Assamaka.
The Integrated Health Centre (IHC) in Assamaka supported by MSF is overwhelmed as thousands of migrants are seeking shelter in the facility. “The situation is worrying,” says Schemssa Kimana, MSF project coordinator for Agadez.
“Today, the health centre that we support in Assamaka is overflowing. The majority of people who have recently arrived in Assamaka have settled in the IHC compound, due to a lack of space in the transit centre,” says Kimana.
The situation is worrying. Today, the health centre that we support in Assamaka is overflowing.
According to Kimana, there are people sleeping in every corner of the facility. Some have set up makeshift tents at the entrance or in the courtyard. Others are camping in front of the maternity ward, on the roof, or in the waste area. MSF staff say the situation is unprecedented.
Temperatures in Assamaka – an arid town – can reach 48 degrees Celsius, so people seek refuge from the heat wherever they can find it. This has led people to sleep in very unhygienic places, such as waste areas, which can expose them to health risks including contagious diseases and skin infections.
The lack of available shelter forcing people to sleep in these conditions is appalling. This situation is now an emergency – it is untenable for anyone to remain living in these conditions.
“We are worried because no one gives us an answer as to when we will return back to our country of origin,” says a migrant from Cameroon taking shelter at the IHC.
We don't know when we will leave Assamaka. It's like being in an open-air prison.
“We don't know when we will leave Assamaka. It's like being in an open-air prison. For meals, all that we receive is very badly prepared. There is more sand in it than food. It makes us sick and gives us diarrhoea and stomach aches,” she says.
“The rations are so minimal that we don’t eat enough. We live at the IHC in sheds that were built for COVID-19 patients. At night, the police patrol the village to catch migrants who have scattered and send them back to the IHC.”
“This is an unparalleled situation that requires an urgent humanitarian response from the ECOWAS, from where the majority of these people are from,” says Jamal Mrrouch, MSF Head of Mission in Niger.
“As a medical humanitarian organisation, it is our duty to highlight the visible gap in assistance for people – including children – who are in a precarious situation in the Assamaka desert, and the risks to their health.”Distributed by APO Group on behalf of Médecins sans frontières (MSF).