The fighting in Libya has dealt Niger three powerful blows:
- Tens of thousands of refugees have flooded into the northern part of Niger
- Remittances from Libya to Niger, a key source of income for many families in the latter, have collapsed
- A powerful neighbor is in disarray, which increases uncertainty in regional politics
All of these challenges come at a time when Niger’s new civilian government, which took office less than four months ago, is juggling problems ranging from food insecurity to accountability in the military to the menace of terrorism (a problem that may have been exacerbated by movement of Libyan weapons into the Sahel).
AFP gives us a ground-level view of the problems of recently returned refugees:
Brooding on an alleyway bench in Agadez’s Amarwatt district, Yassine Souleymane and his fellow countrymen returning from battle-torn Libya have no work and nothing to do. “We’re useless,” he laments.
Until recently the 43-year-old earned a good living over the border selling computer hardware in Tripoli.
Like 200,000 others who left Niger in search of their fortune, he fled home when fighting broke out between Moamer Kadhafi’s regime and the rebels seeking to topple the defiant leader.
After 13 years he is back, and reduced to living for the past two months with his daughter and her soldier husband — a change of circumstance which fills him with shame.
“It’s embarrassing for me,” he said in his native Housa language. “Business was going well in Libya and I was sending back 150,000 CFA francs (225 euros) to my family every month.”
These comments echo what refugees told IRIN in May:
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.
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 [refugees] 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.”
Niger is maintaining careful neutrality in the Libyan conflict, but security concerns are compounding the humanitarian crisis. A clash with alleged AQIM fighters in northern Niger in June yielded a weapons cache, and Nigerien authorities fear that prolonged civil war in Libya will send more arms and fighters into Niger and into the region as a whole.
The problems in Niger have the potential to cause a lengthy crisis in the country. Arguably this has already begun. Even if the war in Libya ended tomorrow, Niger would continue to suffer. The livelihoods and lives that existed before the war cannot be put back together easily, or at all. In the months ahead, Niger will continue to draw on its limited resources in confronting this massive challenge. International aid to Niger recently resumed, but the country may need even more help than that if it is to avoid deepening insecurity.