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Dramatic Drop in Number of Migrants Crossing the Sahel to Europe

  • Lisa Schlein

FILE - A young girl carries an empty container as she walks across the sands to fill it from a well in Barrah, a desert village in the Sahel belt of Chad.

The International Organization for Migration says there has been a dramatic drop in the number of migrants from West Africa crossing the Sahel region into Niger, on their way to Europe.

Migration officials attribute the drop in African migration to strong action by the government of Niger against human smuggling networks.

The International Organization for Migration reports Niger has closed three of six transit houses in the town of Agadez, where migrants often stop on their journey.

IOM Niger Chief of Mission Giuseppe Loprete says migrants used to wait in the houses for smugglers’ vehicles to take them to Algeria or Libya.

FILE - Volunteers and officials dig graves to inter the bodies of migrants who died of thirst after their the truck they were traveling in, seen rear, broke down while attempting to cross the Sahara Desert north of Arlit, Niger, Oct. 30, 2013.
FILE - Volunteers and officials dig graves to inter the bodies of migrants who died of thirst after their the truck they were traveling in, seen rear, broke down while attempting to cross the Sahara Desert north of Arlit, Niger, Oct. 30, 2013.

“Many vehicles have been withdrawn by the army along the migratory routes. Smugglers have been arrested," Loprete said. "So, all this created a context—sent across a message that transiting Agadez is not easy, is not that easy.”

Loprete tells VOA fewer migrants are arriving and staying in Agadez because of the difficulty in finding smugglers to take them to North Africa.

“Last year, the first six months, we were estimating five to 7,000 migrants transiting per week going to Algeria or Libya," Loprete said. "Right now, our numbers show that we are 5,500 migrants per month transiting. So definitely less migrants.”

While the Agadez route is drying up, Loprate says migration to Europe is not. He says smugglers are finding alternate, possibly more dangerous routes to transport their human cargo.

He says Africans desperate to carve out a better life for themselves in Europe continue to risk their lives, making the perilous journey across the Sahel and eventually, across the Sahara Desert.

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