Sub-Saharan African migrants who were expelled from the city of Sfax in Tunisia gather in an area near the Libyan-Tunisia border, in Ras Jedir, 173 km west of Tripoli, Libya, 26 July 2023. EPA-EFE/STR


Niger junta reneges on EU migration deal, reopening Mediterranean floodgate

The junta in Niger has repealed anti-migration legislation designed to limit the mass influx of West African arrivals to Europe


The junta in Niger has repealed anti-migration legislation designed to limit the mass influx of West African arrivals to Europe.

Four months after the successful coup d’état, the move by the pro-Russian leadership in the country looks likely to give people-smugglers carte blanche.

General Abdourahmane Tchiani, the president of the new military junta, the National Council for the Safeguard of the Homeland, issued a directive abolishing the relevant Law 36 a few days ago, according to the German news outlet Die Welt.

“This law has been repealed!” Niger Government spokesman Ibrahima Hamidou stated on Facebook.

“Good news for all those who had to go to jail after the law passed in 2015 because the transportation of migrants was criminalised.”

Niger had passed Law 36 in that year, making it illegal to move migrants through the country.

At the time, record numbers of Africans had reached Europe via the Mediterranean Sea, causing a political and humanitarian crisis in Europe and, in turn, leading to a raft of measures to curb the influx.

In exchange for creating the law, the then pro-western government in the Niger capital Niamey received €5 billion via the European Union Trust Fund for Africa, with the goal of addressing the core causes of mass migration.

Traffickers who were apprehended faced up to 30 years imprisonment and, thereafter, the number of migrants dwindled from 300,000 annually to fewer than 50,000 a year.

The ban on illegal migration also had economic repercussions in the region, affecting those communities that had benefited, notably the indigenous Tuareg.

According to Reuters: “The change drained the lifeblood from towns and villages that had fed and housed migrants and sold car parts and fuel to traffickers.”

When Tchiani took power, most payments from Europe were frozen and sanctions were imposed.

The Nigerien Government’s budget fell from €5 billion to €3 billion, leading to serious deterioration in border protection.

Ulf Laessing, head of the Sahel regional programme at the Konrad Adenauer Foundation in Germany, told Die Welt that France had prevented renewed negotiations with General Tchiani. Germany and Italy, among others, were concerned that the junta could renege on the migration deal but ultimately fell in line with Paris.

Laessing predicted that, as a result of the intra-European dispute, “migration through Niger to Libya will now rise sharply again”.

Russia “as in Mali and Burkina Faso – is actively seeking the favour of the new rulers and is taking advantage of Europe’s hesitation.

“Moscow is likely to encourage the junta to allow more migration through Niger towards the Mediterranean coast in order to destabilise Europe,” he said.

The apparent reopening of what was a major migration route to Europe has come at a time when the European Union is already reeling under historically high migration numbers.