The crisis of Agadez is mainly caused by the EU-supported criminalisation of the migrant industry in 2016. Being placed in central Sahara, Agadez played a central role in the migration to Libia and further for all of the West African migrants. Most locals earned their living off migration in one way or another. The locals pay the price for this criminalisation and some are now inmates in the local prison. 17-year-old Ibrahim Babangide Mahmudi, or just Bangis, is one of these. Photo: Marius Christensen
STILL PICTURE STORY
by Marius Renner Christensen – made in the fall 2019 during his third term at DMJX.
Like other young men Bangis and Mohammed have dreams for their future. But in the least developed country in the world the way from dream to reality is hard to pave. Mohammed and Bangis have comitted crimes and are therefore prisoned in Agadez, Niger. But where prison often is a dead end, the two criminal teenagers have chosen a new path for their lives by being part of a rehabilitation project in the Prison Civile d’Agadez. They are taught a craft with the aim of being independent upon release.
With the reality on the other side of the prison wall sometimes being rougher than the one they are facing in the prison, it is paramount to find employment. The point of the rehabilitation project is to prevent migration by helping the juvenile delinquents to open their own shop in Agadez – a city in crisis with no rightful employment found.
The population of Agadez is 88.000. Local authorities claim that with the criminalization of the migrant industry, the work of around 7.000 people was made illegal, and other crimes increased. The criminalisation primarily affected young men. Photo: Marius Christensen
The boys form small groups of 4-5 persons who share their food and cigarrettes with each other. If one person from the group gets food from his family, he shares it with the others. Today Mubarak got rice and beans from his family when they visited him. Photo: Marius Christensen.
“My parents do not know I am here. And they cannot know. When I think of them, it makes no sense to me that I am here,” says Bangis In the local prison of Agadez there are 405 inmates. 19 of those are minors at the age of 13-19 who live in their own separate area consisting of an outdoor area, toilet, water supply, a small sand spot dedicated as mosque and an indoor area of 30m2 working as a dormitory. They are here because of poverty: They have committed crimes, have been involved in the illegal migration industry or have ended up in bad company and done drug trafficking. Photo: Marius Christensen.
The participants of the workshop chose their craft independently. 19-year-old Mohammed Taffa chose the bed and chair weaving craft. He is from the bush and knows that a lot of people would have an interest in buying this furniture. He wants to open his own shop in his hometown and in the long run teach other local kids the craft and make them work for him. The other workshops are electrician, motorcycle mechanic, tailoring, woodworking and computering. Photo: Marius Christensen.
“Some of the minors think it is easier to manage inside the prison. In the city you can easily end up in trouble. Here you don’t have to consider the issues you face outside. Usually it is people who do not have a family on the other side of the prison wall, who feel like this,” Bangis explains. Photo: Marius Christensen.
“The city transformed after the criminalisation of the migrant industry. Agadez is a city of transition, no longer for migrants on their way north, but for poor migrants on their way home. Those who had to give up their journey. The city went from living off the migrants, for them to be a burden. The locals no longer benefit from the migration,” says Alexandre Bish, PHD and working in the area, being an expert in organised crime and migration. Photo: Marius Christensen.
“I miss my family all the time, but I have to be patient. Every day when I wake up I think of the day I am released,” says Mohammed. Mohammed has a close relationship with his family and especially his father. In the beginning he came to visit him all the time but Mohammed knew the visits were ruining his business and the possibility to support the rest of the family and therefore he told him to stay home. It is two months since the last visit. Photo: Marius Christensen.
Before ending up in prison Mohammed himself wanted to migrate to Libya for seasonal work. He had seen his friends return from Libya with a motorbike and money in their pockets. His father ended up giving him a bike to prevent him from leaving, so that he would help with the farm back home. Photo: Marius Christensen.
It usually pays a couple of cigarettes to wash the clothes of the adult inmates. The rehabilitation project, which is facilitated by the local NGO Penseé Sains Frontieres, PSF, is trying to push the minors towards a new path in their lives. Currently only 5 out of 38 prisons in Niger have a rehabilitation project as part of their programme. Agadez is one of five. Photo: Marius Christensen.
Romar is sitting in the dorm reciting the quran. Most of the boys are Muslims, but it is different how serious they take their practice. Sometimes the boys also use the blackboard in the afternoon to discuss what they learned in the workshop class in the morning. Photo: Marius Christensen.
The minors are not allowed to smoke cigarettes. Nevertheless during the day the boys inhale a great deal of tobacco when the guards don’t look. It helps them relax and keep up the spirit. Photo: Marius Christensen.
Those who don’t get visits from their family don’t get any extra food. The prison serves one meal each day. Therefore some of the minors become too tired to participate in the workshops, because they have no energy and have to stay away to sleep. Photo: Marius Christensen.
”Prison is for the poor. Almost everyone comes from poor conditions. The minors are affected by bad company in the town, and on a bad track because their parents won’t help,” says Sidi Nahadjou, PSF teacher. Photo: Marius Christensen.
Upon release it is paramount that PSF can provide material for the bed and chair weaving for example. With no material, there is no work. And with no work the probability of falling back into crime is major. This is the biggest challenge for PSF, and the reason why some of the people end up in prison again. PSF have helped around 1800 people so far. They hope to spread their concept throughout whole Niger and maybe even further. Photo: Marius Christensen.