by Jennifer Dees
On June 20, 2018, the world honored millions of refugees for World Refugee Day. Along with their bravery and resilience, I also want to honor Niger, one of the countries that has given refugees hope for a new life.
To understand Niger’s role, we first need to understand the refugee crisis in Sub-Saharan Africa. From Mali and Chad, Cameroon and Libya, hundreds of thousands of women, men, and children have fled the ruins of their homes and the threat of death. Many cross through Agadez, Niger on their way to Libya and on to the Mediterranean Sea where they board tightly packed smuggler boats bound for the safety of Europe. Some never make it to the sea, caught by traffickers, rapists, or ransomers on the long trek. Those who do make it to the coast then begin the most dangerous part of the journey. In 2017, over 3,000 migrants drowned when their boats capsized in the Mediterranean Sea. These tragedies are increasing as more European ports close to migrants, leaving them stranded on the waters. The Libyan Coast Guard often sends boats out to bring them back to shore, but then they’re then held in detention centers where some remain for years.
This is where Niger comes in, seeking out refugees in Libyan detention centers and on their long journeys north. The UN Relief Agency resettles the refugees most at risk, either in Niger with host families, or in a resettlement location in another country. After resettling 122 refugees in Niger, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, praised the nation: “One of the poorest countries is also one of the most generous. It has security issues, economic problems, and a complex neighborhood, but it has always kept its borders open.” Like a lifeboat in a tumultuous sea, Niger is often surrounded by conflict. Despite its limited resources, it continues to reach out and pull these desperate refugees to safety.
Nevertheless, the number of refugees and asylum-seekers coming to Niger is increasing, and with limited resources, Niger is struggling to keep up. It had to suspend refugee resettlement operations for two months because too few countries would accept them. In addition, many of the Nigerien communities that integrate refugees are extremely underdeveloped and lacking in resources. As Wells Bring Hope continues to drill wells, rural villages will be more equipped to help. Migrants suffer through unimaginable pain and loss, through heat, hunger, and absolute uncertainty—that anyone should have to walk miles for uncontaminated water is heart-wrenching. As Niger continues to keep its borders open, I hope it will serve as an example to the rest of the world, that even in great need, we can offer hope to millions of people just looking for something to hold on to.