Posted on August 28, 2023

Thousands of Discouraged Migrants Are Stranded in Niger Because of Border Closures Following Coup

Sam Mednick, Associated Press, August 23, 2023

After three months of crossing the desert and then watching other migrants die at sea in his failed attempt to reach Europe, Sahr John Yambasu gave up on getting across the Mediterranean and decided to go back home.

The 29-year-old from Sierra Leone reached Niger in June on his return journey, but United Nations officials said he had to wait for packed migrant centers to empty before he could be repatriated.

Then mutinous soldiers toppled Niger’s president a few weeks later, bringing regional tensions and the shuttering of the borders. Yambasu was trapped.

He is one of nearly 7,000 discouraged migrants trying to get home elsewhere in Africa that the U.N. estimates have been stranded in Niger since late July when members of the presidential guard overthrew the country’s democratically elected president, Mohamad Bazoum. Niger’s junta closed its airspace and regional countries closed border crossings as part of economic and travel sanctions, making it hard for people to leave.

Niger is an important route both for Africans trying to reach Libya as a jumping off spot to cross the Mediterranean to Europe and those who are returning to their homes with help from the United Nations.

Yambasu and others like him are unsure when they will be able to leave.

“I feel sad because it’s a country that I don’t belong to. {snip} ” Yambasu said.


The U.N. agency had been assisting approximately 1,250 people a month return to their countries this year. But the closure of borders and airspace has forced it to temporarily suspend returns and its centers are now jammed at 14% over capacity, said Paola Pace, acting interim chief of mission for the agency in Niger.


Pace worries the stall in the transiting of Africans seeking to get home could increase exploitation of vulnerable people by traffickers and smugglers who normally focus on individuals trying to migrate to Europe.

The shelters are helping people who are making their way home, rather than would-be migrants heading to Europe {snip}


COOPI assists the U.N. in hosting people, but has warned that it will run out of food and water if the borders don’t open soon.