Over the years Agades, the largest city in central Niger, has become the main hub in the Sahel for migrants wishing to make the immense and dangerous journey to the Mediterranean coast and then on to Europe. But the city is now the centre of a more complex reverse paradigm.
The normal flow of migrants is, and has been, from south to north. People looking to make this journey from all over sub-Saharan Africa would congregate in Agades before being trafficked north to Libya.
However, that flow has now reversed — albeit in absolute terms — after approximately 2,000 Sudanese, along with some Chadians, have been driven out of Libya and are now seeking asylum in Agades. The reaction of the local Niger authorities has been to deport them — at least 130 so far — back into Libya by trucking them across the Ténéré desert to the border post with Libya, north of Madama.
Agades has become the central point in Europe’s attempt to establish the EU’s border in the Sahel, rather than in the Mediterranean. But it is simply not working in Agades, where local and international authorities are being overwhelmed. Exact numbers are disputed, and difficult to verify and are often misleading. But some idea of the problem facing the town is that while some 2,000 are said to have been returned from Libya, another 1,500 arrived in Agades from the south over a short time period. With a population of roughly 120,000, this is fast becoming an enormous problem for the Agedes authorities.
Meanwhile European posts being set up in the Sahel’s main cities try and select the few lucky individuals who will be given official EU entry permits. For the remainder and vast majority, there is no immediate solution. But Europe does not seem too perturbed, as long as they do not get too close to European shores.