On Tuesday, international NGOs working in Niger called on the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to ease its sanctions against Niamey to allow emergency humanitarian aid to enter from neighbouring Benin.
The twenty or so organisations are calling for the “immediate reopening” of the border with Benin, which has been blocked because of regional sanctions, to facilitate the entry of humanitarian aid into Niger, where they say more than 4.3 million people need urgent assistance.
At the end of a summit in Abuja on Sunday, ECOWAS maintained the economic and financial sanctions imposed on Niger after the coup d’état on 26 July, making their easing conditional on a “short transition” in particular.
“The international NGOs in Niger have expressed their deep disappointment at the lack of humanitarian exemptions granted by ECOWAS to the sanctions imposed on Niger”, the organisations, which include Acted, Oxfam, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) and Médecins du Monde, said in a statement.
“We call for the immediate opening of the border between Benin and Niger to humanitarian aid”, said the NGOs, who deplored the fact that ECOWAS had “ignored calls” from the humanitarian community “to ensure that civilians in Niger have access to vital aid”.
“We want to convince the ECOWAS heads of state to expressly state that there are humanitarian exemptions to the sanctions”, Ousmane Drabo, NRC regional spokesman, told AFP.
“We have provided access to medical and humanitarian goods, but the military authorities are refusing to use it”, said the President of the ECOWAS Commission, Omar Touray, on Sunday. In their statement, the NGOs said that humanitarian exemptions would “alleviate the suffering” of more than 4.3 million Nigeriens “in urgent need of humanitarian aid” and “for whom the consequences are worsening by the day”.
The absence of a humanitarian exemption “risks seriously compromising access to medical assistance, food and other essential needs for the most vulnerable populations in Niger”, stressed Mohammed Chikhaoui, humanitarian representative of these international NGOs operating in Niger.
According to him, more than 2 million people faced food insecurity between October and December 2023, forcing 15% of the population to move because of a lack of access to food or assistance.