Last stop Agadez

Francesco Bellina


Once a busy layover for the Paris-Dakar rally and a base for expensive Saharan tours, Agadez went through rapid changes in the last decades. Two armed rebellions and the conflagration of the Libyan conflict, in 2011, turned this ancient caravan city into a platform for human smuggling across the desert, to Libya and Algeria. Transforming Niger, by extension, in one of Europe’s main partners to counter migration flows from Western Africa to the Mediterranean shores.

Thanks to a 2015 law against the “illicit traffic of migrants” and a set of control measures, sponsored by the EU, international migration through the country fell down drastically. The International Organization for Migration recorded 333.000 people moving North through Niger in 2016, while they were about 90.000 in 2018. Hundreds of “migration actors”, from drivers to managers of ghettos and transit houses, to middlemen, were arrested and their vehicles confiscated.

While a whole economic sector, that according to estimates was worth hundreds of millions dollars a year, crumbled quickly, efforts to offer alternatives to local youth - through EU funds - had to confront with the dire economic situation of the world poorest country. In the space of two years, Agadez went from being a busy transit town to an uncertain destination for migrants prevented from moving forward. Among them, a growing number of people expelled from Algeria to Niger, dumped down in the city’s suburbs, and others looking for a safe place after experimenting violence and detention in Libya.

Scars from the past rebellions showed up again, insecurity rose, while the city struggles to find a new identity. As Tuaregs say, in local tamasheq language, Agadez needs a “tanakra”, a reawakening. But its future is linked to turmoils in Libya, US and French military operations and decisions in Niamey, Niger’s capital 900 km to the South-West.

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