C. The regional diversification of refugee routes: Sudanese asylum seekers in Agadez
Since December 2017, there has been an unexpected influx of Sudanese in Agadez, reaching close to 2,000 people in May 2018.22 Most are Darfurians coming from southern Libya. Some also came through Chad, from Darfur itself, from Darfur refugee camps in Chad, or from gold mines in northern Chad.23 Those who came through Chad include the wives and children of men who had come earlier from Libya. Most of those Sudanese were moving through Libya or Chad, and its seems their movements were redirected to Agadez by UNHCR’s presence there, particularly with the opening of ‘guesthouses’
in January, and more crucially with the possibility that asylum seekers evacuated from Libya would be resettled in Europe.24
‘Until the end of last year, we didn’t have any idea to go to Niger, until we heard the UNHCR opened camps in Niger to resettle people outside Africa, in Europe and America’, explained a Sudanese refugee in Agadez.25
These rumours referred to the more than 1,000 migrants, notably Darfurians, identified as possible asylum seekers, which had been evacuated from Libya to Niamey after November 2017. EU member states had promised to grant them asylum.
The Sudanese influx in Agadez is another unintended consequence of migration policies based on a country-specific than a regional approach. Beyond the ‘pull factor’, it seems the fact that crossing the Mediterranean has become increasingly difficult has acted as a push factor to Niger for Darfurian refugees in Libya.26 ‘I just wanted to cross the Mediterranean to go to Europe,’ explains B., one of the Darfurians in Niger, who left Sudan to Libya in 2017. ‘But it’s difficult. Now people know everyday the EU prevents people to cross. As Darfurians, we are refugees and we thought it would be better to come to Europe legally. We heard the UNHCR offered good services in Agadez and could take us somewhere else, in Europe. Some of us also heard the French government gave asylum in Niger.’27
22 Reidy, E. 2018. ‘Destination Europe: Deportation’. IRIN, 5 July. https://www.irinnews.org/
medium=irinsocial&utm_campaign=irinupdates 23 Ibid.
24 Ibid.; Zandonini, G. and Howden D. 2018. ‘Niger: Europe’s Migration Laboratory’, Refugees Deeply, 22 May.
https://www.newsdeeply.com/refugees/articles/2018/05/22/niger-europes-migration-laboratory 25 Personal telephone interview with B., Darfurian asylum seeker. 2018. Agadez, Niger, May.
26 In 2017, Libyan ‘coast guards’, including militias using this label, increasingly brought migrants back to the coast.
27 Personal telephone interview with B., Darfurian asylum seeker. 2018. Agadez, Niger, May.
An additional pull factor is indeed that, since October 2017, French asylum authorities sent officers to both Niamey and N’Djaména, in order to interview asylum seekers there, after pre-selection by UNHCR – the first time such missions have been sent to Africa.
The aim is to resettle 3,000 refugees in France.28
Both the Nigerien government and local communities in Agadez viewed the Sudanese presence with suspicion.29 Before their arrival, there had been, since 2016, an increase of carjacking in north-eastern Niger on the road between Dirkou and Libya. This was largely attributed to Darfurian and Chadian Zaghawa, including rebels and former rebels operating from Libya. Members of the Chadian army based in Tibesti were also accused.
Those new foreign armed groups also attacked drug traffickers before being asked to escort drug convoys across northern Niger, thus competing with local Tuareg and Tubu youths involved in this activity.
Prior to this, since 2014, there had also been an influx of Darfurian and Chadian Zaghawa gold miners in the newly discovered Djado gold mines mid-way between Dirkou and Libya, and to a lesser extent the Tchibarakaten mine on the Niger-Algeria border. Those miners included rebels, former rebels and Chadian soldiers. With more experience in gold mining, the Darfurians aroused jealousy from Nigerien miners and local residents, triggering some deadly incidents.
As soon as the Sudanese asylum seekers arrived in Agadez, Nigerien authorities characterised them as ‘criminals’, ‘fighters’, ‘possible members of armed groups in Libya’
and ‘ex-mercenaries who fought in Libya’, and claimed they were transiting to Niger on their way to other conflict theatres to offer their services as mercenaries.30 To the EU, they were even presented as ‘jihadists’.31
In May 2018, some of those (unconfirmed) allegations were used by Niger as a justification to deport 135 of the asylum seekers back to the Libyan border, which constitutes a violation of the non-refoulement principle.32 They were forcibly driven to Madama, the northernmost Nigerien (and French) garrison, 80km from the Libyan border. Those left in Agadez managed to contact Sudanese traders in Um-el-Araneb, in southern Libya, who sent trucks to drive the expelled Sudanese to Libya, for the price
28 OFPRA (Office Français de Protection des Réfugiés et Apatrides). 2017. A l’écoute du monde, rapport d’activité 2017, 10. https://www.ofpra.gouv.fr/sites/default/files/atoms/files/ra_ofpra2017_web_0604.pdf 29 Reidy, E., op.cit.
30 Personal interview with Nigerien official. 2018. Niamey, Niger, April. See Reidy, E., op.cit.; Amnesty International. 2018. ‘Niger: More than a hundred Sudanese nationals deported to Libya in critical situation and at risk of serious abuses including torture,’ press release, 11 May.
31 Personal interview with EU official. 2018. Location withheld, June.
32 Reidy, E., op.cit.
of XOF 6,000 (EUR 9) each. This incident goes completely against EU policies aimed at preventing migrants from entering Libya and also questioned the EU’s depiction of Niger as a ‘safe country’ in which to relocate migrants returned from Libya.33
Sudanese refugees in Niger were also reportedly threatened with deportation to Sudan – which, according to B., ‘is the great fear’.34 Fearing new arrests, many reportedly returned to Libya or Chad of their own volition. By late June 2018, the number of Sudanese in Agadez had decreased to 1,200.35
33 ‘We spoke to the Nigerien authorities, it will not happen again,’ an EU official commented. Personal interview with EU official. 2018. Location withheld, June.
34 Personal telephone interview with B., Darfurian asylum seeker. 2018. Agadez, Niger, May.
35 Reidy, E., op. cit.
A. Niger under the ‘EU diktat’: diminished flows, increased