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Desert smuggling profits climb

A truck of smuggled migrants leaving Agadez to cross the Sahara desert into Libya and Algeria.
(Ibrahim Diallo Manzo/IRIN)

Despite recently reinforced border security agreements between Mali and Algeria and between Libya and Niger, Nigerien ethnic Tuareg smugglers told IRIN their desert convoys through the Air Mountains are as profitable as ever. They smuggle West African migrants to North Africa, where some continue to Europe. IRIN met with three people-smugglers in Agadez from 7 to 9 October as they departed on one of their mountainous desert passages.


“There is no better job than smuggling migrants. It pays well and there are not that many risks. All you need is to know a few words in English [and] wield a long stick or knife [in case of banditry], and everything is OK. There are two routes from Agadez, one to Libya and the other to Algeria.”

“All for one”

“As long as there are agents [who recruit migrants], we will never be unemployed. It pays well and everyone here [Agadez] and in Arlit know that without illegal migration, unemployed drivers will just go back to the mountains and join the rebellion [Tuareg-led fighting that has surged since February 2007 in the Air Mountains, following 1990s fighting]. We don’t know anything but fighting and fraud.”


“For six years, I have been smuggling migrants from Niger to Algeria. I notice many come through during Ramadan [the Muslim month of religious fasting] because in Algeria and Libya, the security forces are less vigilant during their fasts. On my last trip [3 October], I took 33 people. Upon leaving Agadez, I paid US$20 because I did not have my papers in order. Once I arrived at the police checkpoint in Arlit [250km away], I paid $50 for my pass to travel through the mountains.

“You must have this pass, or it is extremely dangerous when you come across the military. After Mamanet [80km north of Arlit], and Bouss [500km northeast of Arlit], the next passage crosses the water well at Tchibarakatène 60km away. Then we stay overnight near the desert cement marker number 19 [signpost], which is another 100km away. After that, we still have another 320km to travel before arriving at our destination of Tchilawène [70km from Janet, Algeria].

“It is from here the migrants start hiking through the mountains. We hand them over to a guide who takes them to Albarkat [Algeria]. The migrants pay $10 per person for the hike. We return to Niger with an empty truck. We have already bought our gasoline for the entire route, three barrels of 200 litres each. What must be avoided at all cost is coming into contact with the Algerian police, especially at Intchilmasse [Algeria]. We have to be extremely careful here because the Algerians are on the lookout for us, so we have to know their surveillance rotations.

“If I run into the Nigerien military, I just show them my mountain pass. They examine it to see if it is real or not, then they let us go. As for rebels, I have never run into them. I notice that since the outbreak of the rebellion, migrants are no longer going to Algeria. They prefer to take the route of Dirkou [to Libya]. I earn about $800 to $1000 per trip. This [smuggling] brings in a lot.”


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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