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Search and Rescue (SAR) missions for stranded migrants in Niger

Primary GCM Objectives

Secondary GCM Objectives


GCM Guiding Principles*

*All practices are to uphold the ten guiding principles of the GCM. This practice particularly exemplifies these listed principles.

Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)


2016 - Present

Type of practice


Geographic scope



Sub Regions:


The Search and Rescue (SAR) operations for distressed migrants are a vital component of the IOM Niger Migrant Resource and Response Mechanism. This initiative arose in response to the escalating migrant flows and the grave peril faced by migrants in the Saharan Desert. To address this, IOM forged a partnership with the Niger Civil Protection General Directorate in 2016, solidified by a memorandum of understanding (MoU), to collaboratively conduct SAR missions in the northern Niger's Saharan Desert. Subsequently, in March 2017, an additional agreement was established between the partners, specifically aimed at aiding migrants along migratory routes. This encompassed extending humanitarian assistance to expellees and other migrants emerging from Algeria. The primary objective of the SAR operations on land is to diligently oversee migrant distress monitoring, communication, and coordination for search and rescue functions. This entails locating, accessing, stabilizing, and transporting or evacuating survivors. It also involves rendering initial medical aid and other necessary support such as water, food, and medical referrals through coordinated efforts with all stakeholders and available resources. The principal beneficiaries of these operations are distressed migrants who are either wounded or stranded in the desert. The central aim of SAR activities is to institute an organized and well-coordinated response for assisting migrants in distress within the Sahara Desert. Key activities encompass mapping relevant stakeholders and migratory routes, deploying teams promptly in response to SAR incidents, providing essential medical care and support, ensuring the safety of survivors in IOM transit centers, raising awareness about migration risks, and sharing insights with stakeholders. Alerts about stranded migrants are received from migrants themselves or local authorities, prompting IOM and Niger civil protection to initiate SAR efforts. Rescued migrants are relocated to IOM transit centers in Agadez, where they often require medical attention, sustenance, and psychosocial support due to their fragile physical and mental states. IOM staff also guide migrants about the possibilities of voluntary return and reintegration support. For effective SAR services across the Sahara Desert, key resources encompass a well-organized coordination team at national and local levels, adequately trained SAR personnel in IOM sub-offices, and a combination of public (local authorities, law enforcement, army) and private (local civil society organizations like the Niger Red Cross Society volunteers) resources. Enhanced coordination among stakeholders is pivotal for optimizing SAR efficacy.


Partner/Donor Organizations

The Niger Civil Protection General Directorate

Benefit and Impact

The key benefits of SAR include the following:
• Reduce loss of life and suffering for migrants in distress by offering medical service and assistance.
• Promote better co-operation between relevant stakeholders to safeguard migrants’ life.
• SAR is integrated into the National Emergency Framework to save migrants in distress.
• Transnational cooperation is promoted to maintain contacts between migrants and their families. In terms of SAR impact, the capacity of the Government of Niger in undertaking SAR of migrants who are found in distress or who are wounded or abandoned while crossing the Desert has been strengthened, in collaboration with the Directorate General of Civil Protection (DGPC). Since 2017, up to 3,000 migrants in distress were rescued, including women and children. To complement SAR in the Desert, both partners are experimenting with the use of drones as a cost-effective option for easing SAR for migrants in distress. This is a pilot project to assess whether this is a viable solution to monitor migrants’ distress in the desert whose results expected upon training completion.

Key Lessons

Key challenges related to SAR
• Vast desert in north Niger desert (400,000 Sqkm) and instable security situation along migratory routes;
• The Niger anti-smuggling law has led to multiplication of smugglers’ routes. Smugglers have constantly developed new strategies to counter the travel restrictions, by using dangerous routes (landmines);
• The presence of landmines, improvised explosive devices (IED) along secondary migratory routes poses several risks, including deaths (recently a dozen of migrants died in northern Niger by landmines/IEDs);
• The limited funds for the Niger civil protection to undertake SAR hinders SAR Operations sustainability.

How each challenge was overcome
• Better cooperation among all stakeholders has been a key success to SAR Operations;
• A network of migrant key informant has been established along the migratory routes to collect data and alert on any distress related to migrants in the desert;
• Community mobilizers inform migrants and community members on risk of irregular migration;
• Limited transnational cooperation between migrant’s origin, transit, and destination countries

What could have been done differently?
So far, the current practice has been successful in lifesaving for migrants in distress in the desert. To improve the effectiveness and the efficiency of SAR Operations, the use of drones is a cost- effective solution. So far, there is a great need to strengthen transnational cooperation between origin, transit and destination countries of migrants.

What kind of follow-up was used to incorporate the lesson in related or future practices?
• Both partners are jointly and smoothly ensuring the training of Drones' pilots is completed to launch the drones on SAR operations.
• Strengthen coopertion bewween migrant’s origin, transit and destination countries.

Recommendations(if the practice is to be replicated)

• Strengthen a better cooperation among all stakeholders as a key success to SAR Operations;
• Establish or enhance existing network of migrant key informant along the migratory routes to collect data and alert on any distress related to migrants in the desert;
• Enhance communities and migrants on better information related to risk of irregular migration.
• Strengthen transnational cooperation between migrant’s origin, transit, and destination countries, including all stakeholders at national, provincial and local levels;
• Strengthen the government capacity on the use of drones as a cost-effective solution


SAR is in line with the national and international laws related to saving lives, including GCM Objectives 8 (save lives), 5 (regular pathways), 7 (reduce vulnerabilities in migration), and 23 (strengthen international cooperation). The innovative way is under experimentation and relates to the use of drones in lifesaving of migrants in distress. It's easy to locate distressed migrants prior to launching any field operations for rescuing them. This saves cost and time. Though the experiment is still under way, it‘s expected that the use of drones is a cost-effective and a sustainable solution to retrieve and assist any migrants in distress in the desert. The potential of its replication is high, especially in land or in the see/ocean.

Date submitted:

05 September 2023

Disclaimer: The content of this practice reflects the views of the implementers and does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations, the United Nations Network on Migration, and its members.



*References to Kosovo shall be understood to be in the context of United Nations Security Council resolution 1244 (1999).