“In Libya you face bombs, but in Niger you face death”

Migrants who have fled the conflict in Libya to return to Niger say they are having to beg, steal, or sell off remaining animals or plots of land to survive, so as not to burden their already impoverished families, most of whom are struggling with food insecurity.



Some 66,200 Nigeriens have returned to Niger from Libya since the end of February, most arriving in the northeastern town of Dirkou, from where they find transport to take them to villages and towns around the country, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM). The majority were involved in agricultural work in Libya, for which they earned up to US$216 (100,000 CFA) per month.



Returnee, Mohamed Lamine, told IRIN: “It was with huge regret that I left Libya. I can’t stand having to rely on my aging parents to survive. I will return as soon as possible.”



Now most of them are jobless and many are in debt, having paid inflated transport costs for the roughly three-week journey across the desert, and high administrative costs to enter the country, according to an inter-agency assessment of two departments in south-central Zinder Province, by the government, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and NGO Care International.



“Thousands and thousands of men have left to return to unemployment in Niger. We have no choice but to beg in the streets or to steal,” Abdelkadre Moussa, a returnee in Agadez in the centre of the country, told IRIN. “In Libya you face bombs, but in Niger you face death.”



Most of the migrants originally came from southern Niger, including the Tahoua, Zinder, Tillabéry and Maradi regions, all of which have suffered food insecurity following the drought that severely diminished harvests in 2009 and 2010, according to the assessment.



Already food-insecure



In Tanout Department, Zinder Province, where 15,000 returnees have resettled, just under half of the villages are classified as vulnerable, according to the April assessment. By this it means villagers have already lost significant numbers of livestock; are facing water shortages; have suffered agricultural deficits in 2009 and 2010; and are facing difficulties buying food due to high food prices.



“The return of these migrants will worsen the vulnerability of these communities,” Mamoudou Daouda, representative of IOM in Dirkou, told IRIN. “In some cases the whole economy of these villages relied on remittances… This situation risks becoming untenable.”



IOM has been helping returnees travel back to their villages.



Grain stocks are too low to meet the needs of all returnees, according to Daouda. The Gouré and Tanout regions have experienced six consecutive seasons with agricultural deficits.



Many families are selling off the few animals they have left in order to support the recent arrivals.



Ahmed Hamaditane, father of a recently-returned migrant in Agadez, told IRIN: “We have run out of food. We have decided to sell off a plot of land, but no one is buying at the moment.”



“My son returned with nothing except an illness,” he added.



Remittances sharply down



Migrants sent as much as US$217,000 (or 100,000,000 CFA) per week collectively, to Gouré Department. Now that money is drying up. Alhadji Amarma, who helps workers transfer money home to families in Agadez, told IRIN he has little to no work.



Most men IRIN spoke to in Agadez said they used to send between US$108 and $216 a month to their families.



Adamou Habi, a member of a refugee management committee representing the governor of Agadez, told IRIN: “These are very, very difficult times. We are overwhelmed by the influx of people. We are doing our best with the help of a few individuals who have helped people return to their homes, but I don’t think we can hold up for much longer.”



“We really need aid,” he added.



Last week the government called on international donors to try to support returnees and their families.



The government, aid agencies and donors must respond before mid-June, which is traditionally the start of the lean season in Niger, government officials stressed.



The number of returnees crossing into Niger has recently diminished, said Daouda, with 500 entering daily, versus 1,200 in mid-April. However, more women and children are now crossing over, a sign that workers are bringing their families with them.



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