Sahel and the business of migrations Print
Written by André Marie POUYA Journalist / Consultant   
Monday, 20 March 2017 19:10


The European Union (EU) intends to give Niger the same role as Libya and Turkey: to block migrants at its borders. To boost it, the EU has given the country nearly 600 million Euros, of which 140 million will be devoted to combatting African immigration to Europe, in particular through Libya.


Monitoring and Retaining


This approach is exposed to internal obstacles and to the free movement of persons within the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). However, Niger has a strong argument: the link between migrants and insecurity that plagues the whole sub region. Still, is migrants’ retention policy viable in the long term?


With jubilation, the European Commission issued the following press release on December 14, 2016: "In Niger, the number of people crossing the desert fell from 70,000 in May to 1,500 in November," adding ‘’ 102 smugglers were brought before the Courts and 95 vehicles were seized ’’. Satisfaction was thus bestowed on the Nigerian president, Issoufou Mahamadou.


This success earned him a rain of Euros. However, that success cannot hide the undeclared ongoing battle against migrants, determined to confront the mortal dangers of the crossings of the Sahara and of the Mediterranean Sea on old crafts. Agadez, the big city of Northern Niger, is at the crossroads through which transits most of the candidates for emigration in Europe, via the Maghreb countries.


The number of these candidates, ‘’tryjng their luck’’ passing through this city, evolves between 100 and 150,000, each year. Almost 90% of the migrants from West Africa pass through Niger to reach Libya, and half of the migrants illegally entering Italy in 2014 passed through Niger. Most of the actors of these tragic events come mainly from Nigeria (19%), Ghana, Senegal and, to a lesser extent, Mali, Guinea-Conakry, Burkina Faso, Benin, Gabon, Sierra Leone and the Gambia. Concerning Niger, that country has only a small contingent of migrants with, primarily Algeria, as their final destination.


The EU calls on Niger to deter young people from going to Europe by financing development projects on the spot. However, above all it is by organizing checks and retention at that country borders. As Niger is a member of the ECOWAS organization, West African nationals benefit from an agreement on the free movement of people within the region. From Niger they can reach the Libyan border legally.


Since the war outbreak in Mali in 2012 and the subsequent tightening of border controls between Algeria and that country, the phenomenon has gotten a vast magnitude. Hence, Agadez has even converted its economy from craftsmanship and tourism based to one meeting the needs of migrants, now the city's first source of revenues. The local populations benefit from this new very lucrative business of transporting and housing migrants. In addition, those indelicate Defense and Security Forces (SDF) members are ransoming convoys and thus enriching themselves from this situation.


The Niger government passed Law No. 2015-36, on May 11, 2015, on migrants’ smuggling. Helping migrants to cross the ECOWAS bordersis now considered a crime, punishable by at least ten years' imprisonment. The FDS are hunting smugglers, mostly Nigerians. SDF patrols cover the main roads leading to the Algerian and Libyan borders. They also rake the alleys of Agadez in search of migrants and smugglers. The vehicles, supposed to transport migrants, are confiscated. Houses, where smugglers gather migrants, pending their day of departure, and called "ghettos", are locked. Buses are also under police surveillance when leaving their stations. The 140 million Euros are in principle, devoted to these police actions. 


The implementation of these measures entails the unemployment of some fifty thousand (50,000) people who have hitherto been living from this "business". Added to this is the drastic increase in the number of migrants stranded in the towns of the Agadez region, exposing local populations to a form of food insecurity. Political and administrative officials are trying to slow down the implementation of these measures, by cleverly advocating, a "prior awareness-raising period’’.


Indeed, Europeans are aware of this shortfall. On 24 January, the EU Delegation in Niger announced the financing of a series of projects intended to benefit the Agadez region "with the objective of proposing accompanying measures alongside those taken by the Government to combat irregular migration ". They are projects intended to address the following:


- Action Plan with rapid economic impact in Agadez (PAIERA), a whole acronym (in French it means it will pay)! The amount is of 8,000,000 Euros;

- Agadez - Rapid Impact Program (AGAPAIR), amounting to EUR 1 075 000;

- "Supporting the training and professional integration of young girls and boys from the regions of Agadez and Zinder with a view to contributing to the socio-economic development of these two regions". The amount is 6,900,000 Euros;

- "Project to support agricultural sectors in the regions of Tahoua and Agadez", with a budget of 67,000,000 Euros;

- "Strengthening Sustainable Management of the Consequences of Migration Flows in Niger" with a budget of 26,500,000 Euros.

For the overall funding, the EU is making a major contribution of 70 000 000, to which are added 38 000 000 Euros contributions from various partners. That is an overall contribution of 108 000 000, largely devoted to the Agadez region.


The Security Question


The EU also seems aware that these controls, retentions and "projects" will not be enough to stem the wave of migrants. Indeed, on 26 January, EU interior ministers meeting on 26 January in Malta discussed a project to finance camps in Africa in order to keep these migrants in them. They are a sort of a duplication of EU agreements with Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon, where camps host millions of Syrian refugees. The same camps are envisaged in Libya and Niger under the management of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) or the International Organization for Migration (IOM).


In Niger, human rights NGOs called them "concentration camps"! For the German Minister of the Interior, Thomas de Maiziere, "We must save the people taken by the smugglers, place them in a safe place. And then, from this safe place, outside Europe, we will only bring in Europe those who need protection "...


What will Niger and the EU would do when Agadez registers an" overflow "of migrants? And what would happen to the status and image of UNHCR and IOM, humanitarian organizations transformed into Niger auxiliary gendarmes on behalf of the EU? By early January 2017, UNHCR itself and NGOs had expressed doubts about refugee transit camps in Libya. "Keeping camps in Libya means keeping migrants in inhumane conditions and putting them even more at risk," the spokesman said.


Migrant smuggling is a threat to the entire West African region, as smugglers are suspected by the Nigerian authorities of bringing weapons from Libya after depositing their human victims there. The insecurity and degradation of the state in Libya, as well as the use of modern means of communication, make the smuggling of migrants very juicy. The niche is under the control of a few powerful personalities and rebel groups. These untouchable actors will always have the means to convey migrants to Europe, which have become, over the years, a commodity as well as a source of insecurity.


In October 2016, the Nigerian authorities still deplored: "multiple vicious acts", "movements of unidentified persons", "unregistered cars", and the "circulation of arms and prohibited goods" in Agadez.


That is a subtle allusion to cocaine, and cigarettes smuggling. Politicians, national and regional, are accused of being involved in it. This is why American, French and other European countries soldiers, present in Agadez, dare not fight the scourge. The comfortable incomes generated from this business are reinvested mainly in real estate and transport. And that is how business goes on ...




Last Updated ( Monday, 20 March 2017 19:49 )