Thousands of migrants seek shelter in northern Niger

Deported from Algeria, migrants are abandoned, left without protection or support.

Niger 2023 © MSF

NIAMEY/NEW YORK, MARCH 16, 2023—Thousands of migrants deported from Algeria and abandoned in the desert of northern Niger are stranded without access to shelter, health care, protection, and basic necessities, the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said today. MSF calls on the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to immediately provide protection for people abandoned in extremely precarious conditions in northern Niger. 

Between January 11 and March 3, 2023, 4,677 migrants arrived in Assamaka—a town in northern Niger’s Agadez region—on foot after being deported from Algeria. Fewer than 15 percent of new arrivals were able to access shelter or protection. Thousands of migrants are now sheltering in the MSF-supported Integrated Health Centre (IHC) in Assamaka. The facility is overwhelmed. 

"The situation is worrying,” said Schemssa Kimana, MSF’s field coordinator for Agadez. “Today, the health center that we support in Assamaka is overflowing. The majority of people who have recently arrived in Assamaka have settled in the IHC compound, due to a lack of space in the transit center." According to Kimana, there are people sleeping in every corner of the facility. Some have set up makeshift tents at the entrance or in the courtyard. Others are camping in front of the maternity ward, on the roof, or in the waste area. MSF staff said the situation is unprecedented.  

Temperatures in Assamaka—an arid town—can reach 48 degrees Celsius, so people seek refuge from the heat wherever they can find it. This has led people to sleep in very unhygienic areas, such as waste areas, which can expose them to health risks such as contagious diseases and skin infections.  

The lack of available shelter forcing people to sleep in these conditions is appalling, MSF said. This situation is now an emergency—it is untenable for anyone to remain living in these conditions.  

"We are worried because no one gives us an answer as to when we will return back to our country of origin,” a migrant from Cameroon told MSF. “We don't know when we will leave Assamaka. It's like being in an open-air prison. For the meals, what we receive is very badly prepared because there is more sand in it than food. It makes us sick and gives us diarrhea and stomach aches. The rations are so minimal that we don’t eat enough. We live at the IHC in sheds that were built for the patients during COVID. During the night, the police patrol the village to catch migrants who may be scattered in the village and send us back to the IHC.” 

"This is an unparalleled situation that requires an urgent humanitarian response from the ECOWAS, from where the majority of these people are from,” said Jamal Mrrouch, MSF Head of Mission in Niger. “As a medical humanitarian organization, it is our duty to highlight the visible gap in assistance for people—including children—who are in a precarious situation in the Assamaka desert, and the risks to their health.”