Niger repatriates hundreds of citizens from Senegal

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Several hundred Nigerian migrants who were begging in the streets of Dakar and whose situation was revealed by a television report, were repatriated to their country in the night of Friday to Saturday, a journalist of the AFP noted.

The flight, chartered by the Nigerien government, with 580 people including many children, arrived at 01:20 (00:20 GMT) at Niamey airport.

"The image of our country is dragged in the mud, that's why the government wants to take this phenomenon in hand", said the Nigerien Minister of Interior, Hamadou Adamou Souley, at the foot of the plane's gangway.

Last week, a report by Senegalese television TFM, widely relayed on social networks, showed the living conditions of many Niger migrants begging in the streets of the capital.

Niger's President Mohamed Bazoum had called a meeting earlier this week "on the phenomenon of begging".

"The government of the Republic of Niger has learned with amazement the presence in the streets of Dakar, Senegal, of several hundred Nigerien nationals engaged in begging," said government spokesman Tidjani Idrissa Abdoulkadri in a statement read out on public television on Tuesday.

"This is an illicit traffic in migrants and human trafficking organized by criminal groups in the direction of certain neighboring countries and even beyond," he said.

A message taken up by the Minister of the Interior on Saturday: "It is not poverty that is at the root (of this phenomenon) but organized mafia networks that traffic and smuggle these people.

"No one will go begging if they have the means to live in better conditions. Begging is not a good thing," said Ousmane Issoufou, one of the returnees as they got off the plane.

According to an African diplomatic source, the Nigerian nationals repatriated on Friday night left from Blaise Diagne International Airport in southeast Dakar.

In Dakar, they were housed in tents at the Léopold Sedar Senghor stadium, according to the same source, who said they were rounded up on Wednesday across the Senegalese capital.

Other nationals also rounded up on Wednesday were housed by the Samu Social in Dakar and were still waiting to be repatriated on Saturday morning.

Another flight is expected to leave Dakar for Niamey on Saturday.

According to an official of the Samu social in Dakar, about 335 migrants were present on Friday evening at their site.

Among the migrants were babies and elderly people, an AFP journalist noted.

A 70-year-old man, Enoussa Ayouba, said he did not want to return to Niamey, after having gone to Dakar three weeks ago with his two wives and their six children. He hoped to find better living conditions.

In addition to the Samu Social, the Red Cross was also present with the migrants in Dakar.

Niger, particularly its western part, is hit by a serious food crisis due to drought and jihadist violence that prevents farmers from cultivating their fields, according to the UN and the authorities.

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