Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Niger Workers Jobs Destroyed by Imperialist War Against Libya

September 27, 2011

As Thousands Leave Libya, and Jobs, Niger Feels Impact

New York Times

NIAMEY, Niger — For tens of thousands of people from Niger, the downfall of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi has been an economic catastrophe, plunging them suddenly from a world of good pay in Libya back into the precarious universe of their home country, one of the poorest and most dependent nations on earth.

More than 200,000 Nigeriens have fled the fighting since March, according to the government here, laboriously traversing the desert from Libya, where they were earning unheard-of sums, by local standards, as tailors, security guards, cooks and drivers.

A majority of those who fled are now destitute, hungry and, along with the thousands of families dependent on remittances from Libya, without prospects. Officials in Niger estimate that at least 200 people continue to arrive daily, and that more probably come through the porous desert border crossings. The government admits that it does not have the resources to help them and is pleading with outside donors for help, as it did when a smattering of Qaddafi loyalists crossed into Niger as well.

By June, the forced migration had knocked an $80 million hole in Niger’s economy, the government here said. That figure has since grown, and it is disastrous in a country where the World Bank says more than 60 percent of people live in extreme poverty, where famine lurks when rains do not arrive and where half the national budget has in previous years come from donors.

Suddenly, the migrants who had supplied Libya’s labor — and along the way took a step into the world of paid holidays, overtime and company cars — find themselves thrust into a domain where limbless beggars congregate at intersections and food is sold from crude tin-roof shacks. The transition, after a grueling and sometimes lethal monthlong trip across the broiling Sahara, has been painful.

For the chance to earn salaries 10 times as high as in Niger, persecution and prejudice in an Arab-dominated country where Africans were treated as second-class citizens were worth putting up with.

“That life there is something that you can’t have here in Niger,” said Abubakar Hassan, who worked as a cook for multinational corporations in Tripoli before fleeing the fighting in Libya and undertaking the perilous desert trip. “It was really excellent.”

Two perished on the truck jammed sky-high with bags and passengers that carried Mr. Hassan and others out of Libya and through the hot sands. “Thirty days of misery,” he said, recounting the thirst, hunger, heat and destitution.

He was wearing a well-cut black shirt with the word Armani embroidered on it. Like dozens of others at a help center at the edge of Niamey, Niger’s mud-brick capital city, he has been without work for more than five months. The mood at the center was one of despair.

“To have work is the dream of everyone here,” he said, looking around the stifling room into which the men had crowded to receive counseling.

Adamou Hamani, a 29-year-old former environmental safety officer who used to inspect construction sites in Libya, earning about $600 a month, said he had fruitlessly left his résumé at six different companies in Niger. Worker safety’s not being a priority in this threadbare country, “They don’t even understand what I do,” he said. “I’m stuck. I’ve got no plans. I have no idea what I’m going to do.”

Others spoke of forgoing meals, having never gone hungry in Libya. “It’s very hard to find enough to eat,” said Mamadou Issa, who worked as an upholsterer in Tripoli but has not worked in nearly six months. “Hopefully, you will find something to eat before sleeping,” he said.

A tailor, Hassan Jibo, who had to sell his clothes to reach Niger, said: “It’s tough. Sometimes we have enough to eat, and sometimes we don’t.”

Outside the capital, in the destitute countryside, the sudden cutoff in remittances from Libya has been even more painful. Much of the population survives on subsistence agriculture. In the period before harvests, what Nigeriens call “the gap,” the cash from Libya is critical.

“We are in the gap right now, and there is nothing,” said Abibatou Wane, head of the International Organization for Migration’s Niger office. “This is a problem that has not been resolved. How are we going to deal with it?”

An International Organization for Migration associate circulating in the villages spoke of the people’s desperation. “As soon as you come in a car, people gather around because they think you are bringing aid,” said the associate, Boubacar Seybou, speaking from the town of Abala. “The monetary transfer from these migrants is the financial resource of these families.”

During an interview, the government official directing the response pleaded for outside help.

“This is a situation that calls out to the conscience; we need $60 million,” said Abdelkader Agaly, the prime minister’s deputy chief of staff. “The $2 million that we’ve distributed represents absolutely nothing.”

Some free sacks of grain have been distributed — several at the Niamey help center complained that the sacks were all gone by the time they showed up — and prices on basic commodities have been cut. But Mr. Agaly suggested this was a drop in the bucket: “What we’ve done, it’s true, is very little.”

The pressure on Niger’s fragile economy is “very strong,” he said.

“In economic terms, this is huge. It is causing an economic depression. A whole sector of our economy is collapsing.”

At the help center, the men expressed anger over what they said was the lack of assistance from the government.

“We thought the government would help us,” said Mr. Hassan, the cook. “Up until now, there has been nothing.”

Hassan Salah, a former guard at a perfume company in Tripoli, said: “The government has done nothing, nothing. Since I’ve come back, I haven’t worked a day.”

Mr. Agaly had a warning for the West: the thousands of hopeless young men now flooding his country could represent a tempting recruitment target in a region where what he called “evil forces” — Al Qaeda’s North African affiliate has made incursions here — are at work.

“It’s not easy here,” said Ali Jibo, another tailor who fled Libya. “I left to have a better life. Libya is a rich country. This is poor here. Here, people are suffering. The young are suffering.”

Issa Ousseini contributed reporting.

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