Most of the northern area of Niger is inhabited by migratory peoples who follow their flocks and herds through the mountainous countryside. During the 1968–75 Sahelian drought, however, these people were forced to leave the north. Many nomads migrated to urban areas in order to keep from starving, but some have since returned. As many as 500,000 people may have moved to Nigeria since the drought. About 100,000 returned in early 1983, when many foreigners were expelled from Nigeria. Thousands more Nigeriens were expelled from Nigeria in 1985, and in 1986; Algeria expelled about 2,000 of the 50,000 Nigerien nomads in southern Algeria. The migration from rural to urban areas has continued.
A five-year civil war (1990–95) between rival factions of Tuareg rebels drove many Tuaregs into big towns or neighboring countries such as Burkina Faso and Algeria. With the signing of a peace agreement in April 1995 came the implementation of a repatriation program. Repatriation of Nigerien refugees from Algeria and Mali was completed by 1998.
In 1999, 3,589 Malian refugees were repatriated; however, some Malians remained on refugee sites, refusing to return to their homeland. In that year there was a growing number of asylum-seekers from the DROC, Republic of the Congo, Sierra Leone, Guinea-Bissau, and Sudan. In 2000, the net migration rate was -0.1 migrants per 1,000 population. The government views the migration levels as satisfactory.