After fleeing clashes in Diebougou, a gold mining region in Burkina Faso’s south, over 1,300 Nigeriens are currently stranded in the country.
Lacking means to use public transportation due to national travel restrictions because of the rampaging COVID-19 pandemic, and with no resources to pursue their journey, the cohort left the mining zone by foot.
A few on bicycles, hoping to reach Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso’s capital, before continuing on to Niamey, the Nigerien capital.
After two days, several hundred Nigeriens reached Ouagadougou, others got as far as Kokologho, a city located about 45 km from the Burkina capital.
Reached by Niger’s Consulate in Ouagadougou and the Burkinabè Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) has been asked to assist these stranded migrants, including with voluntary return to Niger
Meanwhile, some 210 Nigeriens, already arrived in Burkina Faso’s capital, are being sheltered by the Nigerien community there. Over 1,300 continue to wait in Kokologho.
IOM on Friday began assisting those who expressed their wish to go back to Niger.
IOM regional spokesperson, Florence Kim, said last week the reasons these migrants fled Diebougou remain unclear. “One Nigerien fought with a Burkinabe over gold,” she said. “The authorities had to close the site.”
IOM staff in Burkina Faso spoke to those who fled.
A Nigerien gold miner Noureddine, says “we had to flee the gold sites because we were afraid of reprisals. When we arrived in Kokologho, IOM has provided us with food and medical aid.”
Adding, he said, “we have been told how to protect ourselves from the coronavirus but because we are so many, measures such as physical distancing are difficult to apply.”
According to local authorities, no positive case of COVID-19 contagion has yet been confirmed in gold mining zones. IOM has started to screen and register migrants on site. However, preventive measures such as physical distancing are hard to follow.
Through the EU-IOM Joint Initiative for Migrant Protection and Reintegration, the European Union has released additional funding to assist these stranded migrants. IOM’s Kim explained.
IOM Chief of Mission in Burkina Faso, Abibatou Wane, says “the decision to open the border and allow for the safe return of these stranded Nigeriens is such a relief, particularly in these very trying times.
“This shows how solidarity between countries is needed to help the most vulnerable migrants stranded across the region and who are not necessarily taken into account in national response plans.”
The Organisation is also providing food assistance to the stranded Nigeriens in Kokologho as the Burkinabè Red Cross distributed hygiene kits in Ouagadougou and Kokologho.
The Red Cross also provided food assistance to those who have already arrived in Ouagadougou. The Niger Consulate will issue travel laissez-passer cards for those who are undocumented.
Upon arrival in Niger, the migrants will observe a 14-day quarantine period on a site identified by the Government of Niger outside the capital. The government of Niger also will provide transportation from the site to the miners’ communities of origin.
With the support of the European Union (EU) and other donors, IOM in Niger is currently finalizing coordination for the miners’ return with the Ministries of Humanitarian Action, Interior, Public Health and Foreign Affairs and other partners.
This assistance was made possible thanks to the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa through the EU-IOM Joint Initiative for Migrant Protection and Reintegration. Since 2017, 2,243 Burkinabè have received reintegration assistance and 624 persons were assisted to return from Burkina Faso.