Niger risks being destabilised by thousands of migrants, some of them armed, returning from Libya as it faces an impending food crisis, the local head of the United Nations’ office for the coordination of humanitarian affairs told Reuters.
Modibo Traore said the influx from Libya of Nigerien workers fleeing with next to nothing meant their families back home could not count on the steady flow of remittances which are an essential financial prop for Niger’s 16-million population.
“These people are returning to communities that are themselves lacking any means of subsistence. Some families had to sell some of their belongings to send money to their children in Libya to help them flee. So the situation is very bad,” Traore said.
Earlier, Prime Minister Brigi Rafini told diplomats at a meeting in the capital Niamey that the Libyan conflict risked harmful consequences for Niger, appealing for support on both humanitarian and security matters, Reuters reports.
Rafini said that due to a combination of floods in some parts of the country, poor crop development, pest attacks and drought, harvests were lower than expected this year.
So far more than 150,000 people have fled Libya into the northern part of Niger, mostly covered by desert. Nigeriens and other sub-Saharan Africans have for years sought work in oil-rich Libya, where average income per head is 20 times Niger’s.
Traore warned more migrants and refugees would flee into Niger if fighting in south Libya intensified, and Libyan citizens could also flee to the north of Niger and some to Niamey to seek refuge.
“We have been told that in the south of Libya, in Sabha, there are still thousands of sub-Saharan Africans and Nigeriens who are in an extremely difficult humanitarian situation. Many of them cannot leave and are under constant threat,” he said.
“This could be a factor of instability for Niger given that those that are arriving do not always come with a mattress and a blanket. Some are coming in with weapons and some with heavy weapons,” he said.
The Libyan crisis has also landed Niger with a political hot potato in the shape of four convoys containing senior Gaddafi loyalists, among them the chief of his security brigades, three generals and his son Saadi.
Niger said on Monday it was keeping Saadi under surveillance but had not detained him.