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Humanitarian Organizations Call for Urgent Sanctions Exemptions in Niger

FILE - Migrants stuck in Niamey, Niger, pose in their makeshift camp Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2023.

Dozens of humanitarian organizations have launched an appeal urging countries who imposed sanctions on Niger after the July 26 coup to make exemptions to ensure the delivery of vital assistance to vulnerable populations.

Last month, a military junta overthrew democratically-elected President Mohamed Bazoum, detaining the president and his family in their residence while naming a transitional government.

Regional and Western nations have since imposed strict sanctions on the West African country.

"There is no way to bring humanitarian aid into the country," Emmanuel Gignac, U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, representative for Niger said at a press briefing in Geneva. "The immediate goods (affected) is going to be food and then it's going to be access to medicine, to drugs."

The International Rescue Committee is among over 40 local and international aid organizations calling for the exemptions. Children are especially in danger if broad sanctions continue, the IRC said in a statement.

"The clock is ticking, and the lives of Nigerien children are hanging in the balance. Without swift action to implement humanitarian exemptions, we risk losing the battle against malnutrition and preventable diseases,” said Paolo Cernuschi, the IRC country director in Niger.

Over 4.3 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance in Niger, according to the United Nations’ 2023 Humanitarian Response Plan, including over 700,000 forcibly displaced people — refugees, asylum-seekers and the internally displaced.

"Currently, stocks of vital supplies, such as nutritional aid and medical provisions, are held up at the borders due to sanctions. In a nation where acute malnutrition rates are alarmingly high, these delays could prove catastrophic," Cernuschi said.

The UNHCR representative for Niger says a formal letter from the U.N. aid chief had been addressed to the West African ECOWAS bloc for exemptions. ECOWAS spokesperson, Emos Lungu, declined to comment, Gignac said.

Trucks with food and humanitarian aid from Niger’s neighbors are unable to cross land borders due to sanctions, driving up food prices.

However, junta-led Burkina Faso, which has also been suspended by ECOWAS, sent Niger 300 supply trucks last week with products that included maize, salt and household goods.

The military takeover in Niger marks the ninth coup or attempted power grab in the last three years in West and Central Africa.

This report was compiled by Leah Seyoum. Some information came from Reuters.