MENAS Associates, 28 November 2023
Sahara Focus, July 2023 wrote that, if Russia were to gain influence in Niger, which it has since that month’s coup, one of its first moves might well be to persuade the militate junta to repeal the 2015 law — brought in following the EU’s massive payment to former president Mahamadou Issoufou — against smuggling people across the Sahara. This would kill two birds with one stone:
- ingratiating the people of the impoverished and deliberately marginalised northern region of Agades to the junta; and
- causing difficulty for the EU because as many as 100,000 additional migrants a year could find passage from the Sahel to the Mediterranean coast.
On 26 November, whether or not he was persuaded by Moscow, the junta’s leader, General Abdourahamane Tchiani, repealed the law which had criminalised migrant smuggling. This news will be met with consternation in the EU where support for President Mohamod Bazoum’s overthrown regime had been based, above all, on Niger fighting the flow of migrants seeking to reach Europe from Libya and Tunisia.
Under the 2015 law — inspired by the EU and drafted with technical support from the United Nations — Nigeriens who facilitated in transporting foreign migrants were subject to criminal prosecution entailing severe prison sentences and fines. Since its adoption, smuggler networks in northern Niger had been dismantled and a large part of their reception infrastructure and transport seized. The activity continued clandestinely but with far fewer migrants.
Many in Niamey — who see the new regime’s law as retaliation against both the EU and ECOWAS for their support for very harsh sanctions and their repeated calls for the reinstatement of Bazoum — and the Kremlin will be thrilled at the discomfort that it will cause the EU. The timing of the announcement may have been influenced by the 25 November resolution passed by the European Parliament demanding Bazoum’s immediate and unconditional release, the dropping of all charges against him, and his reinstatement in office.
In Agades the smuggler networks have been demanding the repeal for weeks. Their lucrative people trafficking business can now be resumed after more than eight years of criminalisation. A 26 November statement from the Agades regional council widely welcomed the move. It says: ‘Since the announcement of the repeal of this anti-immigration law, smiles have returned to Agades faces, especially those of young people who have long been unemployed.’