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Niamey (Niger), Apr 2 (Canadian-Media): Approximately 2,371 stranded migrants across Niger in the midst of COVID-19 pandemic are currently being assisted by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), IOM media reports said.
IOM is concerned about the significant number of migrants still arriving in Niger despite a nationwide lockdown.
As of 31 March, 34 people have tested positive for COVID-19 in Niger with three death. Several restrictions have been imposed by the the Government of Niger to contain the spread of the virus, including border closures, curfews and travel bans within the country, and a mandatory two-week quarantine for people arriving in the country.
Six transit centres of IOM were used to host the stranded migrants, three temporary transit sites used to quarantine recent arrivals at the border with Algeria and two transit houses in Niamey recently opened to cope with the sudden increase of stranded migrants as a result of border closures.
In order to facilitate the operation of these places at their full capacity, and to keep them safe from a possible outbreak of the virus IOM Niger is doing everything possible to ensure migrants' safety and health, including installation of hand-washing stations, awareness raising and regular checks for COVID-19 symptoms.
As the migrants wait to return to their countries of origin through IOM’s Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration programme (AVRR), IOM, in collaboration with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and local authorities, is currently assisting about 760 migrants in Assamaka, at Niger’s border with Algeria as they finalize their 14-day quarantine period.
The migrants come from 15 different countries of origin, most notably Niger, Mali and Guinea Conakry. Among them are many vulnerable persons, including children, pregnant women and injured individuals.
A joint mission was organized last week by IOM and the Regional Public Health Directorate (DRSP) in Agadez to Assamaka to assess the situation and the health needs of this vulnerable group.
“The fight against COVID-19 requires a joint approach,” said Chegou Yami, DRSP Director for the Agadez region. “We can only succeed in this fight if we join forces, maximize our resources and act now.”
Shelter, food, water, core relief items, psychosocial and medical assistance are provided at the site by IOM to ensure it can cater to this large group.
However migrants' continuous flocking in Assamaka made it difficult to place them in quarantine, especially as new arrivals needed to be separated from pre-existing groups.
Further inland in Arlit, a main crossing point between Assamaka and Agadez for migrants, traders, truck drivers and smugglers, an urgent need arose to host new arrivals in quarantine sites. In collaboration with local and regional authorities, IOM has identified a quarantine site in Arlit where recent border crossers can be hosted and receive assistance.
Additionally IOM was notified by the Nigerien army last week that 256 people have been found at the border with Libya after having been abandoned by smugglers including migrants from nine nationalities, with the majority from Nigeria, Ghana and Burkina Faso.
The Ministry of Interior’s Directorate of Civil Protection, regional and local authorities and IOM’s team in Dirkou worked together to quickly identify a solution and are now moving this group from Madama to a site in the outskirts of Agadez where IOM provides humanitarian assistance as they undergo their quarantine period.
Since borders officially closed and internal movements curtailed, IOM is worried about the devastating impact this situation will have on the livelihoods and coping mechanisms of host communities in Niger.
Amid this humanitarian emergency, IOM continues to work closely with the Government of Niger and diplomatic missions of countries of origin, to explore the possibility of creating a humanitarian corridor for the voluntary return of migrants who show no signs of COVID-19 and who have already undergone the mandatory two-week quarantine.
UN agencies in West and Central Africa are currently assessing the need for a humanitarian corridor and are asking governments to facilitate the movements of UN personnel and transportation of goods to provide humanitarian aid across the region.
Migrants are assisted at the transit centres in Niger in the framework of IOM’s Migrant Resource and Response Mechanism supported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands and the EU-IOM Joint Initiative for Migrant Protection and Reintegration supported by the European Union.