As thousands of Chadian returnees continue to cross from Libya into Chad – via Niger – villagers near the arrival points face a “double burden” with remittances drying up and their scarce resources overstretched, said International Organization for Migration (IOM) operations officer Craig Murphy.
Some 25,000 Chadians have returned since the conflict in Libya began, according to IOM. Most arrive in the small village of Zouarké, 600km northwest of the town of Faya from where returnees find transport to return to their home villages and towns.
There are now many more migrants than residents in Faya, which is usually home to 15,000, said Felix Léger, head of the NGO International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Chad.
Though no one can estimate how many more African migrants are on their way, according to Murphy 1,566 turned up in Faya in just two days – on 23 and 24 May – and there is no sign of the number abating.
While the immediate concern is to get food, water, and health care to returnees, in the long term they will need assistance in finding work, said Murphy. “It [the influx of returnees] puts a strain on all these towns – a lot of them are dependent on remittances and those have dried up. Now they have to support them, which is a double burden,” he told IRIN.
IOM is starting by profiling migrants to assess what they did and what they earned in Libya, with a view to perhaps assisting them in re-starting work in Chad, said Murphy.
According to IOM, 90 percent of the returnees are young men who have worked for years as manual labourers, farmers, and guards in Libya; the rest are women and children.
Tensions have risen in Zouarké, usually home to just a couple of hundred people, where there is one well which must now serve thousands. Murphy saw 1,000 people trying to access the well in one day.
Following arduous journeys of about 30 days with minimal food or water on overloaded trucks, migrants arrive in Zouarké and Faya exhausted, hungry and sick. Common illnesses include advanced dehydration; respiratory illnesses; diarrhoea; and about 20 cases of measles – mainly among adolescents and children, according to IRC.
To stem the spread of measles, the organization will launch a one-week vaccination campaign in Faya targeting 10,000 people. It also screens incoming migrants for health problems, sending them to the local hospital if they need treatment.
Due to severe staff shortages at the hospital, IRC has put in place one doctor and two nurses.
In the immediate term, in Zouarké, IOM is sending food, and will set up a water tank to enable returnees to access well-water from a second point. Meanwhile, in Faya it is registering returnees, providing food, and helping find transport so they can return home.
Migrants in Faya are receiving more or less enough help, said the IRC’s Léger, but the response must be scaled up in Zouarké and along the roadside in Niger – both before migrants arrive in Chad and once they have left Faya, he said, adding that IRC is considering setting up medical “way stations” on busy migrant routes