A Way Back.

Author:Barbut, Monique


Agadez, a town in northern Niger once frequented by tourists visiting the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage historic site, is today one of the main transit points for West African migrants. During my visit to Agadez last year, I met a young man who never made it to Europe. He said to me, "I would rather stay here doing nothing, than go home where I will be doing nothing."

He was just one of about 150,000 people who pass through Agadez or similar transit points across the Sahel every year. He had found an agent and got into a pickup truck to cross the desert. He never reached his destination and was forced to return to Agadez where, without money for another trip, he was just hanging around. In the middle of the desert hundreds and thousands of young men--just like him--are waiting. Waiting for a chance to go somewhere and do something with their lives.


A majority of the young men have one simple goal: to reach Libya or cross into European countries to find a job. Most, if not all of them, come to Agadez poorly prepared. They rarely have enough cash for the trip or information about the risks they are taking. Yet hundreds of thousands still try.

Most freely admit they would not be there in the first place if they had a way to make a living back home. Young men, in particular, are subjected to peer or family pressure to leave, find work and then contribute to family incomes and survival. Returning home empty-handed is simply not an option.

It is especially challenging in a region where nearly every family depends on the land for every livelihood need--food, water, energy and employment. Up to 80 per cent of Africa's population relies on natural resources for survival, while agriculture accounts for more than a third of Africa's gross domestic product on average. Decreasing productivity and the rise in the number and severity of droughts across Africa, especially in West Africa over the last two decades, is making it increasingly difficult for the average person to survive.

We are creating a pool of desperate, underemployed and vulnerable people. As a result, land-dependent poor people face dire choices.

With land-based job opportunities slipping away, 10 million people move to sub-Saharan African cities each year. Two thirds, or 7 million, live in informal settlements or slums and only 2 million can expect to ever move out. (1)

In the meantime, extremist groups such as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), Al-Shabaab and Boko Haram...

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