From Darfur to Agadez: Sudan refugees’ endless quest for safety

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Nigeriens and third-country migrants head towards Libya from Agadez, Niger, Monday, June 4, 2018. (AP)
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Nigeriens and third-country migrants head towards Libya from Agadez, Niger, Monday, June 4, 2018. (AP)
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Nigeriens and third-country migrants head towards Libya from Agadez, Niger on Monday, June 4, 2018.(AP)
Updated 28 June 2018

From Darfur to Agadez: Sudan refugees’ endless quest for safety

  • Hundreds of Sudanese who fled violence in Darfur headed to Libya where many suffered atrocities
  • Swept by warfare since Muammar Qaddafi’s ousting in 2011, Libya has become a prime destination for African migrants trying to reach Europe

AGADEZ: “We are traumatized, exhausted, and we still have no glimmer of hope,” says Mohamed, a Sudanese refugee slumped on a mat at a UN transit center in Agadez, Niger’s renowned “gateway to the Sahara.”
“We’ve fallen into the infernal trap of the desert,” a fellow Sudanese concludes numbly.
They are among hundreds of Sudanese who fled violence in Darfur, headed to Libya where many suffered atrocities and finally, in desperation, struggled through the scorched wastes to Agadez.
A crossroads where traders and adventurers have mingled since ancient times, Agadez has seen a steady influx of these unfortunates in recent months.
Swept by warfare since Muammar Qaddafi’s ousting in 2011, Libya with its enticing Mediterranean coast, has become a prime destination for African migrants trying to reach Europe.
But it is also dangerous, with many migrants and refugees enduring enslavement, kidnapping, extortion and violence.
“In Libya, we lived in hell,” a 31-year-old Sudanese man told AFP.
“Some of us were detained in inhuman conditions, others were tortured, robbed, taken hostage and freed for a ransom, so we fled to Niger.”

Crammed on trucks

All those who made it to Agadez were in distress, including women and children crammed on to trucks precariously laden with goods, according to local charities.
“We fled torture, rape and genocide in Darfur to go to Libya in search of a better life,” one refugee told UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Filippo Grandi in a recent visit to Agadez.
Since 2003, Darfur has been gripped by a brutal conflict between rebel movements and Khartoum-backed militias. By 2010, UN estimates suggested some 300,000 people had died with another three million forced into refugee camps.
Although their route may have been circuitous, a handful of these refugees now appear to have found safety in Agadez, some 1,800 kilometers (1,120 miles) west of Darfur.
But their struggle is far from over.
“We get help in Niger, but it isn’t enough and we suffer greatly,” a young boy of barely 15 explained.
“Some have places to stay, but many sleep on the street because of our large numbers.”

Sleeping rough

Today, many Sudanese women and children are lodged in a large villa in the center of Agadez where they are fed and cared for by UNHCR.
The young men, many of them teenagers, shelter on the outskirts of town where they sleep rough in hangars of corrugated iron but at least have running water.
The unluckiest ones live on the street, at the mercy of savage sandstorms that whip across the city.
UNHCR puts the number of Sudanese asylum seekers in Agadez at 1,300, while local authorities give a higher figure of almost 2,000.
“Ten percent of these Sudanese refugees were in camps in Chad, but cuts in aid drove them into Libya before they got stuck in Agadez,” said Vincent Cochetel, UNHCR’s Special Envoy for the Central Mediterranean.
“For several months, Niger’s authorities did not want these people to have access to asylum procedures, but an agreement was found,” he told AFP.
“There may be some who need asylum, (but) there will be no resettlement for them” in European countries, the UNHCR chief cautioned after talks with Niger’s president, Mahamadou Issoufou.
But he said the agency would continue to support and shelter those in Agadez, while stressing the importance of the international community “stepping up support” to help Niger with refugees elsewhere in the country.

300,000 displaced

Niger, a largely desert country which is a major exporter of uranium, and — since 2011 — oil, remains one of Africa’s poorest countries with few resources for the more than 300,000 refugees and displaced people on its territory.
Some 108,000 people from Nigeria alone have crossed the border to escape the cruelty of the armed jihadists of Boko Haram.
However, the prolonged presence of needy foreigners fuels tensions with the local population, which is already suffering from economic hardship, frequent water shortages and power cuts.
“They attack our women and rob them,” said one motorcycle taxi driver, expressing concerns about safety that are also held by the town’s mayor, Rhissa Feltou.
“This cohabitation is not going well,” said Feltou, pointing the finger at “fiery young people who don’t respect any laws,” some of whom “have even fought in Libya and Sudan.”

Explosion of violence

He says their presence is piling pressure on limited health and sanitation resources in this town of 145,000 people which already takes in “at least 500 West Africans a month” who are expelled from Algeria.
To head off any explosion of violence between residents and the refugees, UNHCR plans to move its charges far from the city.
Feltou blames the UN agency for the tensions in his town, accusing it of raising hopes too high.
“UNHCR has publicly said it can protect all asylum seekers, all those who are persecuted at home. Then social networks pass on the word and overnight we are faced with a huge influx of these people,” he railed.
The centers are “completely overwhelmed,” he said. “And they keep arriving.”


Afghan security forces fail to reach ‘Taliban-mined’ site of US military plane crash

Updated 28 January 2020

Afghan security forces fail to reach ‘Taliban-mined’ site of US military plane crash

  • Probe launched into cause of Monday’s incident as Taliban claim responsibility for shooting down jet

KABUL: Afghan security forces have so far been unable to reach the crash site of a US military aircraft which went down during a mission on Monday in a Taliban-controlled area of the country.
An investigation is underway to determine what caused the Bombardier E-11A plane to crash in the Deh Yak district of Ghazni province, about 120 km southwest of Kabul, although the Taliban have claimed responsibility for shooting it down.

“The Taliban have mined the area, and security forces could not make it to the site to retrieve the bodies and recover the aircraft last evening. The Taliban had laid an ambush as security forces tried to reach the site,” Nasir Ahmad Faqiri, head of Ghazni’s provincial council, told Arab News.
He added that other US aircraft had attempted to land in the area overnight but were forced back due to bad weather.
Aref Noori, a spokesman for Ghanzi’s governor, said: “Afghan and foreign forces are preparing a joint plan to go to the site to see what they can do.”
Authorities have yet to determine how many passengers and crew were on board.
Several members of the provincial council said they had heard from locals that four people on board the plane had escaped the site of the crash soon after it came down. However, the reports could not be confirmed by the US military or other officials.
The crash comes amid a push by the Taliban and US diplomats to restart peace talks which are aimed at ending the 18-year-old conflict in the country.