On November 25, 2023, the Nigerien authorities repealed a law criminalizing migration. A measure that looks like a response to European Union (EU) sanctions against Niger. Since it was the EU which requested the development of the said law in order to reduce migratory flows towards Europe.
Adopted in 2015 under pressure from Europe, law 2015-36 aimed to slow down the movements of migrants towards the Maghreb, then Europe, from Niger. It was developed with the strong support of the European Union which it served to the detriment of Niger. This law was passed “under the influence of certain foreign powers” and “was taken in flagrant contradiction of our community rules”, the Nigerien authorities argued. In addition, the government of the CNSP (military regime) justifies, the law “did not take into account the interests of Niger and its fellow citizens” explaining that it “classifies and criminalizes certain activities which are by nature regular as illicit trafficking”.
The Agadez region (north), the main migratory transit crossroads in Niger, is the most affected by the consequences of this law. The economy, already damaged after the cessation of tourist activities, collapsed in the region. Thus, the lack of youth activities has led to the development of banditry. People and civil society organizations have continued to campaign for the revision, if not the cancellation, of this unpopular law which has made Niger a country of detention instead of a place of transit for migrants.
The Agadez region colored in red on the map of Niger. This is the desert part to the north of Niger. Crossroads for West African migrants heading towards the Maghreb. ©️Wikipedia
A retaliatory measure against the EU
This decision by the Nigerien transitional authorities comes in a context of strong tensions with the European Union which denies them any legitimacy. After suspending its budgetary aid and military cooperation in Niger, the EU adopted, on October 23, a legal framework allowing it to take sanctions against the military regime in place. On November 23, a month later, the EU reiterated his condemnation of the coup d’état in Niger and called for the release and immediate reinstatement of deposed President Mohamed Bazoum to the Presidency of Niger. Presumably, this was the straw that broke the camel’s back. In any case, for many observers, this is one of the reasons which pushed the military authorities of Niger to repeal the law which served as an anti-migratory barrier to the European Union.
A decision warmly welcomed in Agadez
The repeal of the law that criminalized migration was welcomed with open arms in the Agadez region. It is a decision impatiently awaited by young people in the region who made migratory activities their main source of income after the end of tourism following the outbreak of a Tuareg rebellion in 2007 in the region. These young people today say they are proud and above all ready to relaunch their activities.
The Great Mosque in the historic center of Agadez and the surrounding streets, seen from the roof terrace of Auberge Tellit (November 1, 2018)/©️Vincent van Zeijst – Wikicommons
According to Sidi Mamadou, a civil society actor from Agadez who worked in the field, “had it not been for the closure of the borders [par la CEDEAO – NDLR], people would have already embarked on the activities of transporting migrants.” He also promises to get back to work himself soon.
The population believes that the resumption of migratory activities will help revive the region’s economy.
“Today, Agadez can find itself through activities linked to migration,” says Amadou Oumarou, another former service provider of the activity. He also calls for order in the recovery.
The Agadez Regional Council, for its part, welcomed “ a very beneficial initiative for [la] region ».
The European Union is worried
If the decision of General Abdourahamane Tiani delights Nigeriens, it is not the same for the European Union whose, now old law, participated in the migratory and security architecture.
« I deeply regret this decision », Reacted on November 28 the European Commissioner for Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson who “said she was very concerned”. She believes that with the cancellation of the 2015 law, “there is a big risk that this will cause new deaths in the desert”. According to her, this law had enabled not only a clear reduction in the number of deaths on the migratory route, but also a reduction in the number of illegal arrivals on European territory.