In a remote mountain town near the Niger border, nearly 4,000 Chadian migrants are stranded with little food or water. They’ve traveled a long way to get to Chad, suffering from exposure to searing heat and clouds of dust.
The migrants fled the conflict in Libya and traveled some 800 kilometers by truck to the town of Zouarke. While they are back in Chad, they are far from where they want to be.
“We’ve known for some time that Chadian migrants who are fleeing Libya and are trying to get back to their home country are having to use Niger as a transit route…simply because the Libyan/Chadian border has been mined for a very long time,” said Jemini Pandya, spokesperson for the International Organization for Migration.
Libya, during its conflict with Chad, laid landmines from 1977 to 1987. There could still be many thousands of weapons along the border area.
Zouarke - It’s Chad, but not home
“This place at which they cross into, which is the first main arrival point into Chad from Niger, is in the mountainous region,” said Pandya. “What’s happened is that the migrants are coming predominantly from southern Libya traveling on trucks. These are very, very long, arduous, dangerous journeys with very little food and water along the way.”
It’s about 800 kilometers from Gatroun, Libya, to Zouarke. Migrants are trying to reach Faya, about 600 kilometers to the southeast.
“The migrants who’ve been left behind in Zouarke are those that simply can’t travel any further. Many of them are pregnant women. [It’s] too uncomfortable, too dangerous for them to continue being in these massively overcrowded trucks,” she said.
Children have fallen victim to the journey. The IOM has reports that two children died of suffocation while riding on the trucks. Others have been left behind because there aren’t enough trucks to transport them to Faya.
The nearest well with clean water is kilometers from Zouarke. Four people are reported to have died from drinking contaminated water. More than 50 of the migrants are said to be very ill.
More arriving soon
“These 3,800 migrants, the majority of them, have been there since the 20th of April. So, for quite a while now,’ said Pandya, “considering that there out in the open without proper shelter and food and water.”
An IOM team has taken medical supplies to the town and a truck carrying food and water is expected to arrive soon. An empty truck is also on the way to help transport pregnant women, children, the sick and the injured from the town.
Things could get worse in Zouarke because more migrants are on the way from Libya.
“We have reports also that there are another 10 trucks that left Gatroun not that long ago carrying an estimated 1,000 migrants, predominantly Chadians again, heading towards Zouarke. So it’s really important that we get aid to Zouarke as soon as possible,” said Pandya.
She said there’s currently no way to tell the migrants heading to Zouarke what awaits them.
“We have been trying for a long time now to try and access many tens of thousands of Chadians still stranded in Gatroun. We hope at some point we will be allowed to access them because their condition and situation deteriorate on a daily basis,” she said.
The IOM spokesperson added, “People are fleeing from a conflict. They need to get out. For them, just arriving into Chad is a point of safety.”
The Chadian government requested help from IOM upon learning of the stranded migrants.