Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger

Emergency relief for migrants in the Sahel

The traditionally high level of migration in the western Sahel region is central for the region’s economic development. However, smugglers, human traffickers and armed groups make migration on the known routes between West and North Africa a dangerous undertaking, especially for women and children. This project improves the protection of these migrants and strengthens their rights. 


Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger

Target group    
16,235 migrants, especially women and minors, as well as 3,599 people associated with the migrants (direct beneficiaries).In total, 108,000 people (directly and indirectly through information campaigns).

Funding requirement  
13'518'761 Swiss francs

Project duration    
15.01.2020 to 14.01.2023

Project number

Project objective    
Better protection of migrants on the Sahel routes, securing their basic needs and strengthening their rights through direct support and promotion of locally established actors who look after migrants.



Background information

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. 


What are we doing?

The introduction of Schengen visas in 1993 marked the start of greater involvement in the protection of migrants. While initially, support for the migrants came from individuals and voluntary organisations associated with the Catholic church, after 2005, and with an increased media presence, a growing number of NGOs and international organisations became active. In recent years, national African organisations and governments have also increasingly implemented measures. While most of the civil-society organisations active along the migration routes know the regions and the situation of the migrants well, they are small and structurally weak.

This is where this project intervenes and pursues the goal, through direct support and promotion of the locally established (institutional) actors who care for the migrants, of offering them better protection on the migration routes of the transit countries in the western Sahel, securing their basic needs and strengthening their rights. Existing services for migrants are analysed and locally active organisations integrated, the needs of the target groups are identified, and specific analyses of the role of women, as well as of potential conflicts, are carried out. 

By ensuring the support and protection of the migrants, as well as their access to basic services and support for the local institutional actors, better management can be achieved. Therefore, the project not only targets migrating women, youth and children, but also the people who, in some form or other, look after these target groups or are connected to them in some other way. This includes, for instance, the local police, drivers, support committees and associations, the civil society already referred to, government organisations as well as the indigenous population, in order to prevent or reduce possible tensions between the different communities.

The project envisages various different activities, for example direct support with cash for the purchase of food items, distributing medicines, and the construction of simple shelters. In addition, basic services for water, waste disposal and health are developed or improved, depending on the situation. The project also provides for the psychosocial support of migrants (victims of violence), linking them up with specialised local organisations, the identification and strengthening of support groups who are engaged in protecting migrants, the technical training of service providers, as well as the strengthening and integration of civil society and the development of migration platforms for closer interaction between NGOs and governmental organisations at the national and regional level, or the compilation of migration profiles for better observation of the migration routes.


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This document has been produced with the financial assistance of the European Union. The contents of this document are the sole responsibility of Caritas Switzerland and can under no circumstances be regarded as reflecting the position of the European Union.



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