After being stranded for three months in transit centres in Niamey, Niger’s capital, 159 Malian migrants have finally returned home.
They have been stranded since March owing to the border closures decreed by governments to prevent the spread of the raging COVID-19.
The migrants returned home on Tuesday on a charter flight thanks to a humanitarian corridor opened by the governments of Niger and Mali.
This is this month’s second charter organised by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) through European Union funding this month. On June 4, 179 Malians returned.
As COVID-19 shattered the hopes for an imminent return of thousands of migrants in transit across West and Central Africa, IOM has been negotiating with host governments and governments of origin the opening of humanitarian corridors to allow for the voluntary return of migrants waiting in overcrowded transit centres after a perilous journey towards North Africa.
Chief of Mission of IOM in Mali, Pascal Reyntjens, says “this humanitarian corridor ends the frustration of many Malians who have been waiting for more than three months for some in centres and for families who had lost hope of seeing their husbands, sons, fathers and relatives again.”
“Just a few days left,” Abdoulaye kept repeating to IOM staff while waiting for three months in a transit centre run by IOM in Niger, before boarding his homeward flight.
Upon their arrival, all migrants were subject to the national COVID-19 prevention protocol, including the disinfection of their luggage, the provision of masks and hydro-alcoholic gel, health screenings and COVID-19 tests.
Upon arrival in Bamako, Mali’s capital, they started a 14-day quarantine in a transit centre run by IOM’s partner before they reach their community of origin.
The representative of the Ambassador of the EU Delegation in Mali, Mustapha Zlaf, says”during this COVID-19 period, the most fragile and vulnerable populations are stranded migrants in the sub-region. Through the voluntary return of migrants, the European Union, in collaboration with IOM, is supporting the government of Mali to protect and assist their most vulnerable citizens.”
Boubacar, one of the returnees, who had left Mali in 2019 to go to Algeria in search of better opportunities says, “I am happy to return to my country. I suffered a lot during my trip. I was rescued in the desert by IOM’s team. I still have friends stranded in Niger. I hope they will safely return to Mali soon.”
In the coming weeks, the returning migrants will receive reintegration assistance based on their needs. They will benefit from psychosocial, social and economic support to rebuild their lives at home.
This return was made possible thanks to the European Union funding through the EU-IOM Joint Initiative for Migrant Protection and Reintegration.