There are a lot of unspeakable sad tales of African migrants. Their quest for the good life in Europe has not been as rosy as they often expected. For most of those who survived the hellish journey, they would not even wish the worst of their enemies the ordeals of the migrants.
For instance, the case of the 24 year-old Joshua from Sierra Leone is quite touching to the kind-hearted. Like most young people in Africa in need of jobs, since Joshua could not find a stable job back home, he decided to drop out of his Sociology studies in Sierra Leone and go to Europe where he was hoping to build a better future for himself and his wife, Jennifer.
According to his testimony, “it was discouraging to see so many of my friends graduating from university and not being able to feed their families with their diplomas. A lot of young people at home invest so much in their studies and careers, but truth is, none of their dreams will come true if they don’t know the right people. It’s all about who you know.” That is also a major problem in Nigeria, the supposed giant of Africa.
However, a year ago, Joshua packed the little he had and headed for Morocco. His wife Jennifer, aged 20, soon joined him in Morocco, hoping to make the rest of the trip together. From there, they tried crossing into Spain several times, but in vain. They were returned to shore each time.
Their quest for Europe was later aborted because of Jennifer’s pregnancy. The couple decided to head back home through Algeria. Sadly, they had to struggle to find enough money to continue the trip, and Jennifer was developing complications related to her pregnancy.
“I begged people to help her as she was crying and in pain. They wouldn’t even sell me medicine at the pharmacy”, Joshua recounts.
Later, the couple boarded a truck along with other West African migrants and traveled to Niger. “There were injured people and pregnant women on the truck, but no one cared. The truck was speeding through the desert”, he said.
By the time they arrived at point zero at Algeria’s border with Niger, Jennifer was already nine months pregnant. By the time she reached Assamaka, she was in need of immediate medical assistance.
A solution had to be found for the family as quickly as possible. Thank Yahweh for the ubiquitous United Nations migration agency, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM). Two of the agency’s Community Mobilisers (MobComs) who were deployed to Assamaka offered Jennifer one of their rooms until her condition stabilised.
A Public Health Officer with IOM’s mission in Niger, Natsuko Sawaya, said “initially, it looked like a regular pregnancy without any symptom of emergency. She soon started having contractions, but the baby didn’t seem ready to come out.”
Jennifer and her husband ended up staying in Assamaka for eight days until it was deemed safe enough for her to endure the five-hour ambulance ride to Arlit.
IOM works closely with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and local authorities in the commune of Ingall to provide immediate medical assistance for migrants in distress. Natsuko was on the phone each day with the family to check on Jennifer, while the MSF team operating at the health center in Assamaka and the IOM nurse were ready to assist with an eventual delivery.
Once Jennifer’s condition improved over the course of the next few days, the family was transported to Arlit where a doctor from the local hospital performed an emergency C-section. “It’s been quite the experience for the people involved, but we are grateful for the positive turnout”, Natsuko says.
On the average, two babies are born per month in IOM’s transit centres in Niger. Over 37,000 medical consultations have been performed at the migration agency’s six transit centres in Niger as at last year, with an average of 17 urgent medical cases per week.
Assamaka will soon be equipped with a brand new health centre with a maternity ward. Until then, such cases can be challenging, Natsuko says. “Migrants often arrive without any medical document which makes it hard to assess the situation. Without adequate equipment and proper gynecologists or midwives on site, it can be a struggle to determine the best course of action.”
Three days after the delivery, Jennifer and her baby, Jane, joined Joshua at IOM’s transit centre in Arlit as they waited for the birth certificate and Jane’s vaccinations to be completed. “It was quite stressful because I couldn’t manage to get any tests done during the pregnancy, so we weren’t sure if the baby was healthy. Every time I was worried, I would pick up the phone and call Natsuko and she would reassure me”, Jennifer says. “This is my first baby, but we hope to have one more.”
From there, the family traveled to Agadez, and then onwards to Niamey, from where they boarded the plane for Freetown. Last year alone, more than 12,000 migrants participated in the Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration (AVRR) programme from Niger to their country of origin — 476 from Sierra Leone.
For Joshua, “I have seen terrible things during this journey, but I can’t dwell on things too much otherwise it will destroy me. I am trying to put everything behind me. The most important thing is that our baby is healthy. She is strong, just like her mother.”
Two ambulances were provided by IOM for the health centres in Assamaka and Séguédine through the Immigration and Border Management (IBM) project “Strengthening Health Capacities at the Borders with Assamaka and Séguédine”. The project is implemented thanks to the Migration Resource Allocation Committee (MIRAC).
IOM’s Search and Rescue (SAR) and Humanitarian Rescue operations are conducted jointly with the General Directorate for Civil Protection (DGPC) in Niger and are funded through the support of the Government of the Netherlands, the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID) and the European Union, within the framework of the Migrant Resource and Response Mechanism.
Nearly 25,000 people have been assisted through these operations since April 2016.
- Reporting by Akanimo Sampson