Economic insecurity, a low level of education, a lack of job prospects as well as political instability are the main reasons for traditional migration in the western Sahel region. The majority of migrants are on a circular migration path between the different countries of the Sahel zone and North Africa. These regional migration flows play a significant role in the economic development of the Sahel zone and contribute actively to combating poverty and to the process of regional integration. However, the current growth of insecurity has resulted in a decrease of circular migration. Instead, increasing numbers of people try to cross the Mediterranean to reach southern Italy or Spain in order to find work.
Smugglers, traffickers and armed groups make migration on the known routes between West Africa and North Africa a dangerous undertaking, especially for women and children. Many migrants are not prepared for the danger and harshness of the living conditions on the migration routes, fall into poverty or become victims of violence. Moreover, the migrants often do not have access to medical facilities, safe accommodation, food or schools during their journey, at their destination or in transit. Children and women also face the risk of being separated from their families and left alone, which can lead to sexual, physical and psychological abuse.
According to the UNHCR, around 700,000 refugees and 270,000 internally displaced people lived in Mali, Burkina Faso, Mauretania, Niger and Chad in 2017. These five Sahel countries are transit countries, although the situation varies considerably from region to region. Mali has a high level of emigration due to its weak economic development, great insecurity and lack of prospects. Burkina Faso is also a typical emigration country but has itself taken in many refugees since the crisis in neighbouring Mali in 2012. Internal migration in Burkina Faso is also high, due to the great regional variations in agricultural income opportunities and mining. Niger is, like Mauretania, a major transit country and an important connecting axis to Libya. Niger represents the most important transit country for migration to North Africa. Thanks to economic growth, the country has recently also become more attractive as a destination country.
In order to improve the protection of migrants and refugees and strengthen their rights, the European Union and several African states adopted the Joint Valetta Action Plan in November 2015. This identifies the root causes of migration, with the focus of the action plan being on the provision of basic services (education, health, nutrition), food aid, construction of housing, as well as water supply and waste disposal. This is also the focus of Caritas Switzerland’s project.
Caritas Switzerland has been involved in the Sahel, particularly in Mali and Chad, for many years. After working predominantly in the humanitarian sphere in the 1970s, it subsequently engaged mainly in development cooperation and continues to do so. The current project benefits from the experience Caritas Switzerland has gained in the two countries in recent years, working with local partners and with other similar projects in the fields of migration, food security and vocational training, as well as climate.