The World Needs a New Refugee Convention

The World Needs a New Refugee Convention

With its square white tents perfectly aligned against the yellow sands of the Sahara, Adam’s home could be a model refugee camp. Except it’s not. The government of Niger and the United Nations refugee agency, or UNHCR, call the camp a “humanitarian site.” Real refugees, for the government, are those who come from the war-torn zones of neighboring Mali and Nigeria and who are housed temporarily until there is a lull in fighting, at which point they are expected to return to the other side of the border.

The Sudanese at the humanitarian site are different, caught between journeys. They fled the conflict in their homeland of Darfur and headed north, crossing various borders to reach Libya—which proved to be as dangerous as the country they had left behind. Then they went south to Niger, this time fleeing detention centers, slave markets, and arrest by European Union-backed Libyan coast guard units.

Before he came to Niger, on his first journey, Adam had even managed to reach Europe. He got to Italy but was arrested at the French border and deported to Sudan. Since then, he has gone by the nickname “Italy.” He isn’t happy waiting at the humanitarian site, but the UNHCR staff told him that if he didn’t like it there, Niger could send him back to Libya. In 2019, there were painfully few resettlement flights from the humanitarian site to Europe, but they did exist, and they gave Adam hope. He dreams of returning to the country that gave him his name. Or anywhere in Europe, really. The present offers no possibilities.

Getting to Europe is now almost impossible. The drip feed of resettlement was turned off in early 2020 as the virus reconfigured our world. In September, he texted us: “There is no future for me.”