Xchange Press Release: Life in transit: Voices from returning migrants – New Xchange report reconstructs the journeys of African returnees and explores their stories of discrimination and abuse.

On Thursday, February 28, Xchange launches the second in the two-part Niger Report 2019 series focusing on mixed migration flows across Africa.

Agadez has long played a crucial role as a transit hub for Sub-Saharan Africans travelling north, toward Libya and Algeria, or south upon their return. Niger Report (Part One) looked at the consequences of Law 2015-036 from the perspective of stakeholders and smugglers.

This time, Xchange was on the ground in Agadez to speak with migrants, in a bid to better understand what they experienced and witnessed on their journeys. Our goal was to find out what happens to those who either did not plan to cross the Mediterranean in the first place or did not manage to do so successfully. We explored what disruptions had occurred to established routes, particularly in the wake of crackdowns by authorities in Libya and Algeria.

The MOAS-funded survey was conducted over a one-month period and reached a sample size of 189 returnees originating from 17 African countries.
The findings were stark: Half of the respondents had been arbitrarily arrested and detained, and even more experienced exploitation and abuse in Libya or Algeria.


In the house of confinement in Zuwarah (Libya) the guard would force me to sleep with him and he’d put sand in my body and there was no water to wash that. And this man had AIDS. He contaminated me without me knowing it and I contaminated others. It’s truly sad.
— Malian female returning migrant


Before starting their journeys, 44% of the interviewed migrants intended to stay within Africa and 43% intended to go to a European country. Several reported using ‘irregular’ routes to reach Libya or Algeria, avoiding checkpoints and crossing the borders via the desert. Eventually, only one in four migrants tried to cross the Mediterranean but were discouraged and headed south.


I tried to cross the Mediterranean from Sabratha, Libya twice in 2017. Then I told myself that it is not worth crossing the sea since I saw how Africans die in there.
— Burkinabe male returning migrant


One in three respondents, however, were deported to Niger by the Libyan or Algerian authorities. Now, just one in four intend to return to their respective countries of origin. A majority plan to continue ‘taking their lives in their own hands’.


Speaking with returnees about their journeys was an extraordinary experience for us at Xchange. It corroborated our belief that no top-down policy will ever be effective if it’s not informed by those it targets. It was disheartening to see how many go to sleep every night not knowing what others have planned for them. These people have travelled thousands of kilometres sacrificing their sanity in search of work and hope. We are glad to have the privilege to share their journeys in an unbiased, uncensored way.
— Ioannis Papasilekas, Research Analyst at Xchange


Migrants and refugees are among the most vulnerable groups, exposed to human rights abuses during their journeys. We must put human dignity at the centre of policy-making and public debate. Objective research like Xchange’s highlights the reality on the ground and helps shape migration policies and strategies in years to come. Let’s give voice to the voiceless and safeguard human dignity. Always.
— Regina Catrambone, Co-founder and Director of MOAS


You can find a link to the full report here.

About us:

At Xchange, we believe in the power of data to transform public perception on human migration. We dig beyond the headlines to add meaning to numbers and advocate for better knowledge of migration through freely available data visualisation and analysis, as well as in-depth research and reports. Our data is the summary of thousands of individual journeys.


MOAS is an international humanitarian organization dedicated to mitigating the suffering of people forced to risk their lives to reach safety. As an independent NGO, MOAS was founded and continues to operate on the principles of humanity, impartiality, and neutrality, by providing humanitarian aid, medical assistance and implementing support projects to refugees and migrants in distress.

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