afrol News, 25 May - On their way to Europe, many migrants from West and Central Africa are caught trying to cross the border from Niger to Algeria or Libya. Niger is now interning migrants in desert camps, preparing their return.
The network to stop illegal African migrants from reaching the European Union (EU) is steadily expanding. First, the EU reached agreements with North African transit countries such as Morocco and Libya to return migrants before trying to reach Europe. Now, even countries in the Sahara and Sahel are cooperating with the EU.
In the middle of the Sahara desert, around the major Nigerien Sahara trade route town Agadez, EU funding has achieved the establishment of two so-called "transit centres" to interne the increasing number of illegal migrants that now are caught by security forces of Niger, Algeria and Libya.
The centres, funded by the Italian government, "provide often desperate and destitute migrants with temporary lodging, food, clothing items and hygiene kits as well as basic health care services as well as counselling on the dangers of irregular migration," according to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), which assists in the operation of the centres.
The two centres are located in the northern Niger region of Agadez, in the districts of Dirkou and Arlit. Since the opening of the centres in November 2009 for Dirkou and January 2010 for Arlit, IOM and its local partners have registered a total of 1,446 migrants.
Over the past years, migrants have used numerous land routes to try and reach their desired destinations in North Africa and Europe, the Niger route through the Sahara desert being among the most popular.
The trans-Saharan journey is generally made in several stages, and might take anywhere between one month and several years. On their way, migrants often settle temporarily in towns located on migration hubs to work and save enough money for their onward journeys, usually in large trucks or pick-ups.
Although a variety of trans-Saharan routes exists, the majority of overland migrants enter the Maghreb from Agadez, which is located on a historical crossroads of trade routes that extend deep into West and Central Africa.
From Agadez, migration routes bifurcate to the Sebha oasis in Libya and to Tamanrasset in southern Algeria. From southern Libya, migrants move to Tripoli and other coastal cities in Libya or to Tunisia.
From Tamanrasset in Algeria, some migrants move to the northern cities or enter Morocco via the border near Oujda. From Oujda in Morocco, migrants either try to enter the EU by crossing the sea from the north coast or entering the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta or Melilla or move to Rabat and Casablanca, where they settle down at least temporarily.
The aim of the Agadez interning centre is to intercept illegal migrants already before they make the hazardous journey through the Sahara desert and before their return from North Africa becomes too costly and bureaucratic.
According to IOM, the early abruption in Niger also has a humanitarian aspect. The migration organisation primarily is involved in works to ease the heavy plight of the migrants. In addition to providing immediate humanitarian assistance, the IOM's main task however is to convince the stranded migrants they will be best off returning voluntarily.
Voluntary return and reintegration assistance is provided. To ease reintegration, IOM says it is developing in cooperation with local training and financial institutions micro-enterprise and income generating opportunities for more than 300 vulnerable Nigerien returnees, which include in-kind assistance and business management tutoring.
The two centres in Agadez are among the first to be planned in the Sahel region. In addition, the EU has wide-reaching agreements with most source countries of illegal migrants, including Mali, Senegal and The Gambia, to provide for forced return of migrants that have already reached Europe.
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