There are very few figures available that allow for the quantification of migration flows in Chad. Among those limited data, the IOM registers the movements of travellers through three main transit points in northern Chad. Between January and March 2018, 5,000 people were registered each month in Kalaït, a small town at a crossroad between eastern and northern Chad. In March 2018, 3,000 travellers were registered further north, in northern Chad’s capital Faya. These people head south as often as north, and even those travelling north are not necessarily planning to enter Libya. Further north in Zouarké, a hub between Faya and the Libyan border, the IOM registered 3,600 people returning from Libya in March 2018, exceeding those heading to Libya (2,143). The increasing difficulty of the Mediterranean crossing and the violence in Libya may explain these returns. It may also be the case that travellers to Libya hide more often than those returning from Libya.
Historically, Chadian migrants to Libya mostly used the route from N’Djaména to Faya, the main town in Chad’s northern half, then to Wanianga oasis and Kufra in Libya. Passengers used to travel on large trucks bringing livestock to Libya and coming back with subsidised goods. From eastern Chad, there was also, and still is, a secondary road from Abéché to Kalaït then Faya.
Another, more recent, main trade route from both eastern Chad and Darfur to Libya departs from Tina, on the border between Chad and Sudan, then heads north to Kufra, crossing the eastern slopes of the Ennedi mountains, the Mourdi depression and the Erdi hills, not far from the Chad-Sudan border. This route is also used by large trucks that can carry passengers as well.
All those routes to Kufra have been partly abandoned, notably by passengers (trucks trading goods continue to use them), mostly because of insecurity in Kufra itself, as well as on the roads south and north of Kufra, and in north-eastern Chad. Since December 2011 the conflict between Tubu and Zwaya Arab communities in Kufra, at times occasioning a blockade of the city, has pushed smugglers to avoid the city. Tubu smugglers and traders, in particular, moved their routes west toward Rebyana oasis and increasingly toward the Fezzan, in particular since 2015, as Zwaya militias took control of the main routes between Sudan and Kufra and north of Kufra toward the coast. Banditry both in south-eastern Libya and in north-eastern Chad has been another factor in this shift. The route from Kufra to the coast is also reputed dangerous. Finally, migrants mostly cross the Mediterranean from the western rather than eastern section of the Libyan coast. Since northern Libya has been de facto divided between west and east, with continuous fighting in the centre, it is easier for migrants to reach the Tripoli area from the Fezzan rather than from the Kufra or Benghazi areas.
This shift resulted in the development of two new routes, which became the main routes for migrants. Migrant smugglers reaching south-eastern Libya, whether from Sudan or from Chad, will avoid Kufra and turn west towards the Kilinje mountains (and gold mines), Waw el-Kebir, then Um-el-Araneb in the Fezzan, thus remaining in Tubu territory. Others will join the Fezzan through Chad, through the Tibesti Mountains and the Kouri Bougoudi gold mines on the Chad-Libya border. Several new routes have been opened towards the Kouri Bougoudi area. From the west of Chad, smugglers take the main N’Djaména-Faya road before heading north-west to Zouarké (a route that was mostly used by a limited number of Tubu cross-border traders) then Kouri Bougoudi. Others, from N’Djaména or Mao, head directly north to Zouarké along the Chad-Niger border – a shorter but more difficult route that until recently was only used by the Tubu. Since 2013, gold miners from eastern Chad and Darfur opened other routes towards Kouri Bougoudi, joining at Kalaït before crossing the Djourab desert to Faya, then Zouarke and Kouri Bougoudi. All routes towards Kouri Bougoudi were first used by gold miners, before vehicles going to the mines also began to carry migrants. Because of the gold rush, migrants could easily board a gold miners’ vehicle, mostly pickup trucks, heading to the Libyan borderlands. This explains why migrant smugglers largely abandoned the old routes to Kufra, which were mostly travelled by large trucks.
From Tibesti, there are routes heading towards Seguedine and the Djado gold mines in north-eastern Niger, from where it is then possible to reach Libya. But those have been used mostly by gold miners rather than migrants, in particular since the increase in both military patrols and banditry in north-eastern Niger. However, some Darfurian refugees have been using these routes to reach Agadez since late 2017 (see above).
North-eastern Chad has become a new transit area for migrants, in particular since anti-migration policies have been enforced in both Niger and Sudan. In the latter, these policies have made direct routes from Darfur to Libya more difficult, at least for smugglers not affiliated to the RSF, or for migrants preferring not to travel on RSF vehicles. Migrants transiting through north-eastern Chad mostly cross the border from Sudan and originate from the Horn of Africa region (including Sudan itself, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia). Others come from Chad itself, including Darfurian refugees living in camps in eastern Chad. And fewer numbers originate from West and Central Africa, as a result of anti-migration policies in Niger, as described above.
Several towns on the Chad-Sudan border or further away in eastern Chad have thus become hubs for migrants. One such hub is Abéché, eastern Chad’s capital, used in particular by migrants crossing the Chad-Sudan border in Adré. Further north, Tina, a town on the Chad-Sudan border, is both a main hub and border crossing. Tina or Tiné twin towns (Chadian and Sudanese) are only separated by a large wadi, dry most of the year, and inhabited by the same Zaghawa families on each side. Tina has long been one of the main markets between Chad and Sudan, as well as a departure point of the main trade route to Libya going directly to Kufra. In addition to the usual trade (livestock from Chad and Darfur, subsidised goods from Libya), it has also become a hub, since 2011, for cars, often stolen in Libya, to be sold in Chad or Sudan.
As mentioned in Section 1, eastern Chad is not only a transit area but a departure point for both Chadians and Darfurian refugees heading to Libya. Chad currently hosts more than 430,000 refugees, including an estimated 325,000 Sudanese. The latter live in 12 camps established at the beginning of the war in Darfur in 2003, along the Chad-Sudan border. In recent years, Darfurian refugees in Chad also increasingly migrating to Libya, then to Europe. Among the main reasons is the drastic reduction in food aid, in particular since 2013: monthly rations now last only, on average, half a month, and in some camps food aid is restricted to those considered to be most vulnerable. This has pushed many refugees, in particular young men, to look for alternative sources of subsistence for their families, including looking for gold across the Sahara or paid work in Libya, or seeking asylum in Europe.
‘Today, Darfur is not anymore a priority for the United Nations and NGOs,’ explains M.H., a Darfurian refugee in Chad who looked for gold in Kouri Bougoudi before migrating to Libya. ‘New crises appeared and food aid diminished. It is also the reason why some of us migrate. In addition, of course, pressures by both the Sudanese and Chadian governments and the UNHCR for us to return to Darfur push us to Libya instead.’ Indeed, another reason why Darfurian refugees are increasingly leaving for Libya is the pressure on them, in particular from the Chadian authorities, to return to Darfur, in spite of continuous insecurity there. Generally speaking, the lack of any hope for peace or political change in Sudan, with the RSF increasingly controlling Darfur and sometimes occupying land from which civilians were displaced, and the rebel movements’ inability to return to Darfur, also explain why an increasing number of Darfurians, including refugees in Chad, have been travelling to Libya and Europe. According to Jaspars and Buchanan-Smith, whether in Chad or in Darfur, ‘What all young Darfuris of particular ethnic groups have in common is a sense of hopelessness and despair about their future in Sudan. Many young Darfuri men were aware of the risks of migrating to Europe, but for them the choice was between what they described as a quick death at sea or elsewhere en route, or a slow death in Sudan.’
The refugee camps in eastern Chad, particularly those in the north-east, are not only departure points for those heading towards Libya but also transit points for migrants coming from Sudan. This is also because some smugglers driving from Darfur to eastern Chad and from eastern Chad to Libya are Zaghawa with family connections in the camps, if not refugees themselves.
Most smugglers travelling from Chad to Libya belong to the three communities inhabiting the Chadian Sahara: Tubu, Goran and Zaghawa. Smugglers from each ethnic group are found more often on routes crossing their own ethnic territories. For instance, the Zaghawa, straddling the Chad-Darfur border, are among the main smugglers between North Darfur and Chad, and in north-eastern Chad. All over Chad, they also benefit from their group’s importance within the Chadian army (Chad’s President Idriss Déby is a Zaghawa himself). The Tubu, straddling the Chad-Libya border, are more active in north-western Chad and southern Libya. The Goran, inhabiting Borkou and West Ennedi, are active on roads between Faya and Kouri Bougoudi as well as between Faya and Kufra. They benefit from the important Goran presence within the Chadian diaspora in Kufra, among gold miners in Kouri Bougoudi and among Chadian rebels in southern Libya. Many Goran migrant smugglers are reportedly former rebels. Smugglers from the different groups do have some connections. As a Zaghawa smuggler explains, ‘between Chad and Libya, speaking Tubu language is more important than any paper from whatever country. We use the Tubu as papers we present at borders.’
As mentioned above, some migrants heading from Chad towards Libya are Chadians and Sudanese. And, as during the Qaddafi period, it seems the destination for many of them is still Libya, or the Chad-Libya border, rather than Europe. According to IOM data, 59% of Chadian migrants in Libya had intended to go to Libya, whereas only 31% wanted to go to Europe. It is, however, difficult to estimate what proportion of migrants crossing from Chad to Libya are actually heading for Libya or aiming for Europe, respectively. In Chad, as in Niger or Sudan, migrants on their way to Libya tend to say that country is their final destination, as it can be enough to avoid being turned back. In addition, whatever their intentions are when they set off, those often change during the journey, notably because of violence in Libya. Migrants who were initially aiming for Libya but who suffered abuse, financial extortion, enslavement or unpaid work, often decided to continue on to Europe, as did some migrants who felt unable to return south by land.
Many Chadian and Sudanese migrants departing from Chad, in particular those going through Kouri Bougoudi, hope to first find gold in the Chad-Libya borderlands, partly to finance the next leg of their journey. Others are hoping to become fighters, whether within their respective rebellions based in Libya, or as mercenaries for various Libyan forces, most notably Haftar. Chadian authorities claim that people travelling from Chad to Libya are fighters rather than migrants, according to an EU official. Libyan sources also indicate that among at least a hundred Sudanese combatants who fought in Sirte in the ranks of Islamic State, several had travelled to Libya through Chad, crossing the border at Adré or Tina before heading to Faya, Fezzan and Sirte.
Migrants interviewed in Chad reported various abuses they suffered at the hands of Chadian smugglers. Some were driven to desert locations where they were held and beaten by the smugglers who were asking for more money. Others were abandoned in the desert after having paid for the whole trip to Libya. However, unlike in Libya, month-long kidnappings for ransom appear to be uncommon in Chad. Nevertheless, some Chadian smugglers sold migrants to Libyans who then kidnapped them for ransom or coerced them into forced labour. Forced labour has also been reported in gold mines on Chadian soil.
In 2013, gold was discovered in the Tibesti Mountains, notably in the Kouri Bougoudi area straddling the Chad-Libya border, and not far either from Niger. Further east, another important gold field, mainly situated on the Libyan side of the border, is known as Kilinje. Among miners who took part in the gold rush to Tibesti, many, including the most skilled in semi-mechanised gold mining, were Darfurian Zaghawa with experience in gold mines in Darfur. Among them, many were refugees from the camps in Chad, as well as rebels or former rebels. Others were Chadian Zaghawa or former members of the Chadian army or Chadian rebel groups. As a result, new routes were opened between Dar Zaghawa, the Zaghawa homeland straddling the border between Chad and Sudan, and Tibesti. As far away as the North Darfur capital, El-Fasher, Arab and Zaghawa RSF are said to recruit passengers for Kouri Bougoudi.
In recent years, many asylum seekers from Darfur and other parts of the Horn of Africa seem to have crossed the Sudan-Chad border in Tina and the Chad-Libya border in Kouri Bougoudi. In mid-2015, A.Y., a Darfurian, was smuggled from El-Geneina, West Darfur, to Am Nabak refugee camp in Chad, by a Zaghawa smuggler, together with 15 other passengers, not all going to Libya. The six passengers who wanted to travel to Libya were handed over to another Zaghawa smuggler. They were hosted in the refugee camp for four days while their new smuggler found more passengers. A.Y. finally left in a convoy of two cars, his own with 21 passengers, and the other with 18, all Sudanese. Some of the passengers were going to Kouri Bougoudi to search for gold and others were going to Libya. A.Y. and six other passengers who wanted to travel to Libya spent only one day in Kouri Bougoudi. Then the Zaghawa smuggler handed them over to a Tubu smuggler. (The Zaghawa paid the Tubu for the part of the trip between Kouri Bougoudi and Murzuq, which those passengers had paid in advance.). Then they got into the Tubu smugglers’ car, together with six other passengers. A.Y.’s plan was not to go to Europe but to find work in northern Libya. However, after working without being paid, and being kidnapped for a ransom, he decided to travel to Europe.
Both gold miners and migrants to Libya travel in the many vehicles driving the routes to Kouri Bougoudi. The vehicles generally stop in Kouri Bougoudi. While the gold miners end their journey there, the migrants get into other vehicles, generally driven by Tubu, heading to the Fezzan. There is little control on the border in this area, neither by the Chadian army nor by the Tubu militias controlling the Libyan side, except for some informal taxes on mining and on vehicles, whether they transport miners or migrants. The Tubu katiba controlling the Libyan side of Kouri Bougoudi acknowledge they cannot block migrants because most of the smugglers are Tubu. However, in early 2018, they arrested 40 to 50 mostly Sudanese migrants travelling on water trucks, threatening the drivers with the confiscation of their trucks were they to transport migrants again. ‘We can’t arrest migrants travelling on pickup trucks because they don’t stop at the checkpoint, and because they’re Tubu,’ one of the katiba’s leaders explained. ‘We told the migrants they were not allowed to go to Libya but could work as gold miners in Kouri Bougoudi if they wished. Our policy is to encourage both smugglers and migrants to look for gold. We want alternatives for the smugglers, and mining has created such an alternative.’
Migrants can pay smugglers for the whole trip to Libya. The smugglers drive them as far as Kouri Bougoudi, then pay Tubu smugglers for the rest of the trip further north. Further east, the Kilinje gold mines, closer to Sudan, have also become a transit post for migrants on routes from Chad and Sudan. The mines are on the route for those who, after entering south-eastern Libya, prefer to avoid Kufra and turn west towards the Fezzan. Migrants, notably those without enough money to pay for the whole trip, can stop in Kouri Bougoudi or Kilinje and work as gold miners, in the hope of finding enough gold to pay for the rest of their journey. Even migrants with no money at all can contract a debt with a car owner (who can also be a ‘boss’ for gold miners) and work as gold miners until they reimburse the first leg of their journey, then eventually continue their trip.
It seems that only a minority of passengers on the road to Kouri Bougoudi are migrants. However, it is difficult to know precisely if passengers to Kouri Bougoudi are actually migrants or miners because they prefer – and are advised by the smugglers – to present themselves as miners to avoid arrest by Chadian forces.
In addition, travellers often change their minds. ‘I lived with my parents in the [refugee] camp until gold was discovered in Tibesti,’ explains M.H., a young Darfurian from Tulum refugee camp in eastern Chad. ‘Then I went to Kouri Bougoudi to look for gold. There, I met migrants leaving for Europe. Later some called me after they succeeded in crossing the sea. As my parents were not pressuring me anymore as they used to do in Tulum, I decided to leave. I found a bit of gold and paid LYD 600 (EUR 90) to a smuggler who drove me to the coast. M.H.’s boat was wrecked near the Libyan coast, and after being rescued by the Libyan coast guards, he decided to return to Chad.
Some gold miners became migrants. It seems those were notably miners who found the work in the mines too hard or too risky for security reasons, or were not lucky enough to find gold, and then decided to continue their journey towards Libya. Vice-versa, some migrants tried their luck in gold mines and often gave up their plans to migrate when they were successful. It seems that the gold mines in northern Chad and Niger have acted as deterrents for many migrants who had intended to travel north, and that successful miners choose instead to continue mining or to return home with their gains, rather than risk their life in Libya. There are reports of migrants who managed to repay their debt and gave up their idea of travelling to Europe, eventually finding enough gold to become themselves ‘bosses’ of teams of gold miners working for them. Some even buy a car with their gains and become traders or migrant smugglers. But many gold miners, whether migrants or not, are less lucky and may end up being trapped in mining work because of their debt.
B.B. is one of the main Chadian Zaghawa migrant smugglers, driving migrants and gold miners from the Chad-Sudan border to Fezzan, through Kouri Bougoudi.
For a decade, between 2003 and 2013, B.B. was a Darfur rebel combatant. In 2013, his faction signed a peace deal with the Sudanese government, leaving him with no hope for either the promises made by the government or the possibilities of success of the Darfur insurgency. ‘I decided to leave the movement to start my own business,’ he explains. ‘But after some ten years of armed struggle, I didn’t have any skills for a job. So I decided to work in the gold mines.’ Like many disgruntled Darfur rebels, B.B. looked for gold in Tibesti and Niger. He was successful enough to be able to buy a pickup truck and began to drive gold miners and migrants from the Chad-Sudan borderlands to Kouri Bougoudi. ‘Initially, I was only transporting gold miners, then, gradually, drove migrants heading to Libya.’
B.B. works with M.T., a young Tubu and member of a Libyan Tubu militia. After fighting on Qaddafi’s side in 2011, M.T. joined a Tubu ‘self-defence’ militia fighting the Awlad Suleiman Arabs in Sebha, one of three main urban conflicts pitting the Tubu against other southern Libyan communities after the revolution. When not fighting in Sebha, the militia formed patrols and checkpoints to tax migrants, whether they had legal documents or not: ‘Whether you have documents or not, you pay the same tax and you pass,’ M.T. explained. ‘We don’t care about documents, because we are not a state.’ However, M.T.’s militia received funding from authorities in northern Libya, mostly from Haftar, but also from the GNA. The Tubu force opportunistically tried to maintain good relations with both.
In early 2017, as he was looking for gold in Kouri Bougoudi near the Chad-Libya-Niger tri-border, M.T. befriended B.B. and became a driver for him. However, he did not abandon his militia post and salary of LYD 300 (EUR 15) a month. ‘I have my militia card with me to show at the checkpoints in southern Libya. I speak with the [Tubu] guards in Tubu language and I’m presenting myself as the car owner, and the [non-Tubu] car owner as my employee. The car owner needs a Tubu to move around safely in southern Libya, this is why he hired me and pays me more than a normal driver. Once in Chad, he becomes the real boss again. This situation perfectly suits both of us, we are good friends and make a very good team.’
This relationship is remarkable because there have been deadly conflicts between Tubu and Zaghawa in the Tibesti gold mines, including in Kouri Bougoudi, since 2014. ‘The conflict between Zaghawa and Tubu began before we met. And indeed, some Tubu don’t understand how I can have such a close cooperation with a Zaghawa. I understand those who don’t look favourably on our relationship, but now it has become very strong and I consider [B.B.] as a brother.’
While this particular story may be exceptional in the current context of competition, notably over gold, between Tubu and Zaghawa, migrant smuggling and other informal or even illicit economic activities have commonly given way to associations between members of different ethnic groups. Such activities have thus often acted as a stabiliser and contributed to good relations between Saharan communities, including Tubu and Tuareg in Niger.
Migrants who travelled on credit or who paid only for their journey to the Libyan border and lack money for the next leg, have to stop in Kouri Bougoudi or Kilinje, or are driven to the mines and have to look for gold until they can repay their debt. Those who do not find gold can be kept in the mines indefinitely, in particular given that bosses add to the debt the expenses (food, water) supposedly spent on behalf of the worker. Even migrants who chose to work in mines in the hope of finding enough gold to continue their journey sometimes describe their situation as ‘forced labour’, depending on how good or bad the ‘boss’ of their mining team is. ‘I had no money so I chose to work in the mine,’ tells I.M., a Darfurian asylum seeker who travelled to Kouri Bougoudi in January 2017 in the hope of reaching Europe, but had only enough money to pay for the trip to Kouri Bougoudi. ‘We made a team of six miners and found a Goran boss who provided us with tools. Then our freedom was limited. We depended on the boss. We are forced to stay until we pay our debt. I was not happy. I did not find enough gold.’ After six unsuccessful months, I.M. managed to escape.
Some migrant smugglers reportedly ‘sell’ migrants who have travelled on credit, for a price equivalent to their debt, to ‘bosses’ exploiting one or several teams of miners. A.B., a 17-year-old Darfurian, reports that the Goran smuggler who drove him and others to Kouri Bougoudi sold them to a gold ‘businessman’, who fed them but gave them no wages. Even migrants who did not have a debt were reportedly ‘sold’ for gold mining or other labour. H.D., a Sierra Leonese, who left for Europe in 2016, was sold twice. First, the smuggler who drove him, among 20 West African migrants, from Agadez to Um-el-Araneb in southern Libya, sold him to a farm owner for whom he worked without payment. After three months, he was re-sold to a gold mine ‘boss’. ‘I never knew the price of my two sales,’ H.D. explains. ‘I was only told to follow another master. My new master brought me to the gold mines on the Libyan side of Kouri Bougoudi.’ H.D. then managed to escape, walking to the Chadian side of the border. ‘I don’t want to go to Libya or to Europe anymore,’ he said when interviewed in Chad.
Kilinje is considered much more dangerous than Kouri Bougoudi. As well as Tubu militias, considered as regular self-defence groups, part of the area has been, in recent years, controlled by bandits, notably at the main checkpoint known as Bawaba Azrael, from the name of Azrael, the angel of death in the Koran, because of the violence of its guards. The bandits tax the migrants, and reportedly execute some and rape women migrants.
According to a Darfurian asylum seeker, for migrants, ‘Kilinje is where the drama starts.’ Among the Kilinje gold fields, both the field of Azrael, near the checkpoint of the same name, and another called the field of slaves, have a terrible reputation. Even migrants who had already paid were reportedly driven there and had to work for free. Migrants who were kidnapped and had no one to pay a ransom also reportedly had to work in Kilinje. A.O., a Darfurian asylum seeker mentioned above, explained that in 2016, Tubu traffickers in Rebyana selected at least four of his companions who could not pay a ransom and had ‘hard hands’ for forced labour in Kilinje gold mines. Those who refuse to work in the mines are reportedly tortured.
Migrants and gold miners also suffered from the conflicts that pitted Zaghawa gold miners against local Tubu militias, known as wangada – notably in the Kouri Bougoudi gold mines, where 67 gold miners were reportedly killed in August 2015. After this, the Chadian army reportedly evacuated 12,000 miners (and migrants) from the area, to Faya and eastern Chad. But after a few months, miners and migrants came back. In May-June 2017, 40,000 men were mining in the area when it was evacuated again by the Chadian army, reportedly hoping to retake control of the border. Many reportedly left for Libya, including an unknown number on foot, some of whom reportedly died in the desert. The Chadian forces also confiscated vehicles. However, once again, miners and migrants came back shortly afterwards. In December 2017, new fighting broke out, and 15 to 20 Zaghawa gold miners were killed by Goran armed men. In August 2018, after Chadian rebels successfully raided Chadian army positions in Kouri Bougoudi, N'Djaména ordered its forces to close the site again, destroy the shops, lorries, water trucks and mining equipment, and arrest reluctant miners.
Both the violence in the gold mines and the repeated evacuations by the Chadian army closed the migratory route through Kouri Bougoudi for short periods. However, they also pushed gold miners to travel further north towards Libya and Europe, often at some risk, as many had not been lucky miners and lacked money to pay for transport or ransoms. Similarly, the evacuation of the Djado gold mines, in northern Niger, in March 2017, pushed some miners, notably Sudanese, to leave to Kouri Bougoudi and eventually become migrants to Europe.
In January 2017, Chad announced the closing of its border with Libya, with the exception of authorised crossing points, most notably north of Wour in Tibesti. Further military forces were deployed in the north. The reason given for closing Chad’s northern border was the alleged risk of infiltration by terrorist groups in Libya. However, it is clear that N’Djaména mostly feared the presence of Chadian rebel movements in southern Libya, with recruits from northern Chad travelling to Libya alongside migrants or gold miners to join the insurgency.
The presence of Chadian rebels or former rebels looking for gold in Kouri Bougoudi, and the lack of control of the border in this area, were also significant reasons for N’Djaména both to deploy troops there and to formally prohibit gold mining as early as 2013. It is in this context that pickup trucks were confiscated, most notably in mid-2017. Later, in 2018, N’Djaména proclaimed a complete ban on pickup trucks for civilians in northern and eastern Chad; this was also likely to target gold miners and young men who might join rebel groups in Libya, rather than only migrant smuggling. This ban generated considerable discontent against the regime, not the least in Dar Zaghawa, President Déby’s homeland. It is unlikely the armed forces will be able, or even willing, to enforce it. Prior to this, since late 2017, there had also been reports of a prohibition on pickup trucks driving passengers between Kalaït and Faya. It is, however, unclear whether that ban targeted migration or gold mining.
In recent years, Chad also began to take measures that appeared to target migration more specifically. In 2016, for example, the army arrested Darfurian refugees on their way to Libya, in Abéché. Smugglers began to hide their passengers in villages, refugee camps or under trees before putting them into cars, and to present them as gold miners rather than migrants. However, as a smuggler himself recognised, ‘migrants have only been imprisoned on rare occasions, then released after a few days’. On those occasions, smugglers’ vehicles were confiscated, and owners had to pay to get their cars back.
A soldier deployed in northern Chad explained that, oddly, migrants travelling from Chad to Libya were not, or not often, bothered, while those returning from Libya were more strictly controlled and sometimes imprisoned. This may be because the latter are suspected of having linked with the rebels in Libya. The same soldier, who had been deployed successively in Kouri Bougoudi and Miski gold mines, mentioned that the army also released several migrants or gold miners enslaved in the mines.
Soldiers, smugglers and migrants report that the Chadian army is mostly focused on taking bribes rather than curbing migration. The sums requested from migrants – XAF 500-1,000 (EUR 0.7-1.5) – are relatively small, in comparison to similar practices in Niger, Sudan or Libya. Smugglers without personal connections to the military may be asked for greater amounts. The need for such connections explains why many migrant drivers are reportedly Zaghawa, including army defectors. Soldiers unhappy with their salary are said to defect and turn to other activities, including smuggling between Chad and Libya.
The migration issue appeared to become more prominent in Chad in 2017 and 2018. As mentioned above, the IOM opened a ‘flow monitoring point’ in Kalaït in April 2017, followed by others in Faya and Zouarké in March 2018. As for the EU, by May 2018, it had no specific migration-focused programme in Chad, according to a relevant official. Indeed, the seven projects funded by the Emergency Trust Fund for EUR 113 million appeared only indirectly connected to migration. However, two of those projects, at a cost of EUR 10 million each, aim to train and strengthen the capacities of the Chadian security forces, in particular those managing the borders. But these projects focus on the borders with Cameroon and Niger, respectively near N’Djaména and north of Lake Chad – an area of strategic importance due to Boko Haram terrorist threat rather than to migration. A third, EUR 23 million project, focuses on the incomplete demining of Chad’s northern half, as well as developing the region. The project is based on the hypothesis that new economic opportunities could allow people to make a living in northern Chad, although demining roads could also facilitate migration.
In addition, in August 2017, several EU member states agreed to support border controls in both Niger and Chad. In September, Italy announced it was discussing ‘military collaboration (…) about training and border control’ not only with Niger, as mentioned above, but also with Chad.
The EU seems well aware of the political risks it takes in supporting Chadian security forces: ‘the EU reputation risks being wagered in a context where the space of fundamental rights and freedoms, as well as public funds management, are shrinking’ (risk evaluated as high), ‘risk of a disproportionate use of force’ (risk evaluated as medium), and ‘persistence of a high degree of generalised corruption of the civil service, weak sense of public service and of the respect of the rule of law by the [Chadian] security forces.’ However, in spite of those risks, European interest in migration in Chad is likely to grow, because the country forms a vacuum in a European system that is closing the Libyan border in Niger and Sudan, on each side of Chad. International policy makers working on migration, including EU officials, recommended that Chad join the Khartoum Process.
Whether this makes sense is being questioned, including by Chad itself. As mentioned above, Chad was historically neither a transit nor a departure country to Europe. But it has long been affected by other displacements, primarily as a host country for refugees, mostly from Darfur over the past 15 years. Darfurian refugees in Chad have been increasingly migrating to Europe, not the least because donors have gradually reduced aid to the camps. In addition, both the Chadian government, in order to strengthen its relations with Sudan, and the UNHCR, lacking resources for refugees, have, in different ways, encouraged them to return to Darfur. Mostly since 2011, tripartite Sudan-Chad-UNHCR discussions on 'return’ of refugees to Darfur have raised fears among refugees of being forced back, thus pushing them to migrate to Libya and Europe. Paradoxically, the UNHCR may now be among the agencies to receive funding on migration issues in Chad. In the best-case scenario, donors could fund projects that prevent Darfurian refugees from travelling to Libya – not by funding hard security measures but by enabling them to have a better life in the camps in Chad.
As for the Chadian government, its interests in migration and border issues seem to differ from those of Europe, as recognised by the EU, which pointed out that ‘there is more interest, for the Chadian government, in targeted management of the threats near the borders’. Indeed, Chad’s policy on its borders, and with its neighbours, has been mostly to consolidate border control in order to prevent infiltration by rebel groups from neighbouring countries. That was enforced through building relations with neighbours – such as with Sudan and the deployment of a joint border force since 2010, or with armed groups positioned at borders, such as Tubu militias in Libya or ex-Séléka rebels in the Central African Republic.
In comparison, migration itself was not a priority for the Chadian regime, at least not until 2018. In 2017, Chadian officials welcomed rather coldly European interest in migration through Chad. They noted the fact that, historically, Chadians were not migrating to Europe and claimed that Chadians going to Libya included combatants. N’Djaména appeared to be more concerned in 2018. In March, the Chadian media reported that 58 ‘migrants’ on their way to Libya had been arrested in Abéché. However, it seems those were people from southern Chad, who were not necessarily intending to go to Libya or Europe. Their arrest in Abéché, 800km from the Libya border, on the basis of supposed intentions, appears to have an even more questionable legal basis than the ECOWAS migrants arrested in Agadez, in Niger. Another group of 24 was reportedly intercepted in the Batha region, also far from Libya.
Such measures remained limited and symbolic, aimed at convincing international players that Chad is ready to be a partner on migration as it already is on security and terrorism. N’Djaména may rightly believe that, as in Niger and Sudan, the migration flow can provide the country with additional, financial and political, international support. The risk for Chad’s international partners is that N’Djaména could instrumentalise further Europe’s various concerns on migration or terrorism, notably for the sake of its own security interests.