Under pressure from Europe, "violence against sub-Saharan migrants is becoming commonplace" in Africa

Migrants: Niger terminus (5/8). Relayed on the continent, European policies hamper all migration to the Sahara, says researcher Julien Brachet.

Malboro neighborhood, Agadez. Doukouri, 18 (right), and his brother Karim, 14, are Guineans. After a five-month trip between Conakry and Meddeb, in Algeria, they were deported to Niger. BACHIR FOR THE WORLD

Julien Brachet is a researcher at the Research Institute for Development (IRD) and at the University Paris 1-Pantheon-Sorbonne. A specialist in migratory issues in the Sahara, he analyzes the place of Niger in the measures to combat irregular migration in Africa.

Niger has become unavoidable when it comes to migration issues in Europe, the Maghreb and sub-Saharan Africa. How to explain this pivotal role?

Julien Brachet There is a historical reason for this. Since the mid-twentieth century, Niger has been one of the main countries of departure and passage for sub-Saharan migrants to Algeria and Libya. Notably because the only paved road that almost completely crosses the central Sahara is the one that links Niger to Algeria, with only 200 km of interruption between Arlit in northern Niger and the Algerian border.

"In Niger, there is an old tradition of temporary economic migration to Algeria and Libya. "

In Niger, but also in other Sahelian regions, there is an old tradition of temporary economic migration to Algeria and Libya. This migration, generally irregular, has long been tolerated by the authorities of these countries, who were aware of their need for labor from the Sahel to develop their Saharan regions. The case of Libya is exemplary: in this sparsely populated country, rich in oil exploitation, many economic sectors are practically reserved for foreigners, especially agriculture, construction and domestic jobs.

To this historical reason is added a more contemporary and more political reason: Niger is a central country on the migration issue because it is one of the most stable states in the region, whose government agrees to negotiate the implementation of European migration policies.

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In your work, you explain that the collaboration between Europe and Niger begins in the 2000s.

In the 1990s, there was a revival of migration to and through the Sahara. Notably because of the devaluation of the CFA franc in 1994, which has impoverished a large part of the French-speaking middle class. In 1995, this is also the beginning of the application of the Schengen agreements, which leads to a drastic reduction in the issuing of visas to African nationals. And then there is the closure of the migration pole that was Côte d'Ivoire, for economic and political reasons, and the opening of Libya to immigration from the south of the Sahara.

"The vast majority of migrants crossing the Sahara are not intended to come to Europe. "

Among the migrants who then go to North Africa, a small part decide to continue their route to Europe. And at the end of the 1990s, when European decision-makers saw black African migrants arrive on the southern shores of Europe, they understand that before crossing the Mediterranean, they passed through the Sahara. They decide to negotiate with the Maghreb countries, then with those of the Sahel. Except that in order to block the migrants who come to Europe, Europe is ready to hinder all migrations in the Sahara, even though we know that the vast majority of migrants crossing the Sahara do not aim to come to Europe, but only to work in the Maghreb.

Niger would therefore only apply the wishes of Europe?

It is not so simple, and that is why the Europeans took ten years to get the vote of the law of 2015 [on the smuggling of migrants]. There has been a form of passive resistance by the Nigerian authorities, which, without facing the European states head on, have not implemented their policies with much enthusiasm. For a long time, the migration issue was simply not a political issue in Niger. There was no law on migration. And the government considered that it had no interest in preventing people from moving around. On the contrary, even, since a small part of the population lives thanks to these migrations. Above all, the country has been linked to other West African countries since 1979 through the free trade agreements of ECOWAS [Economic Community of West African States].

That said, the European Union (EU) and European states have fairly effective means of persuasion. In 2018 alone, Niger received direct budget support from the EU, via the European Development Fund and the Emergency Trust Fund, of over € 90 million for the control of migration flows. Another important player is IOM [the International Organization for Migration of the United Nations], which moved to Niamey in 2006 and is increasingly involved in the implementation of migration policies in the country. , with the idea of ​​better controlling flows and borders.

"With the 2015 law, there is no need to cross a border illegally to qualify as a smuggler. "

This is how we come to the vote of the 2015 law against the "smuggling of migrants". A law that criminalizes actors in the transportation of people, including within the national territory. With this text, there is no need to cross a border illegally to qualify as a smuggler. This law allows Nigerians to be arrested in Niger, even when they have regular passengers, for example ECOWAS nationals, simply if the police think they are going at some point to go illegally to Algeria or Libya. . This law does not respect the principle of presumption of innocence, neither the ECOWAS agreements nor the European Convention on Human Rights.

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In Niger, have the effects of the 2015 law been so bad for the country's economy?

First of all, it must be remembered that we do not have reliable data showing that this law has led to a significant drop in migration flows across Niger. What we do know is that these migrations are becoming more and more clandestine and that migrants no longer use the same paths. They bypass the city of Agadez, very controlled. So at the level of this city, yes, the economic effects are very harmful. Residents and local authorities complain because they feel they are suffering the effects of an unjust, impulse and foreign-funded policy. Especially since the aid provided by the EU does not compensate for the shortfall.

"The inhabitants feel that they are suffering the effects of an unjust policy, driven and financed by foreign countries. "

Beyond these economic effects, violence against sub-Saharan migrants is becoming commonplace. It ranges from the non-respect of their rights to desert abandonment and to the proven cases of non-assistance to people in danger resulting in death, particularly in the Mediterranean. One can legitimately ask how the fight against marginal migration on a continental European scale - as are irregular migrations from sub-Saharan Africa - has taken on such proportions and forms. One can also wonder what would be the reaction of public opinion and governments if, on videos showing dozens of people abandoned in the desert by police or drowning under the watch of coastguards trained and funded by the These people who are allowed to die have other nationalities and another skin color.

Summary of our series "Migrants: Niger terminus"

Our journalist Julia Pascual and our photographer Bachir traveled to Niger, where tens of thousands of sub-Saharan migrants, most of them expelled from neighboring Algeria, are transiting while waiting to retake the adventure, return home or obtain asylum in another country.

Episode 1 In Niger, the repressed Algerians tell the story of the "hunt for the black man"

Episode 2 "We were abandoned in the desert": African migrants testify

Episode 3 Arlit, first step of the repressed Algerians

Episode 4 Yvette, five years in Algeria and a return ticket for Cameroon

Julia Pascual

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REF: https://www.lemonde.fr/afrique/article/2019/01/12/sous-pression-de-l-europe-la-violence-contre-les-migrants-subsahariens-se-banalise-en-afrique_5408341_3212.html