Legislative developments in Niger, epitomized by the enactment and subsequent repeal of Law 2015-36, represent a paradigmatic case of migration governance that intertwines geopolitical stratagems with profound socioeconomic and humanitarian consequences. Initially, a linchpin of migration cooperation between Niger and the EU, this law, which sought to stem migration by criminalizing critical support services, induced an economic downturn, particularly in Agadez, and increased the vulnerability of local populations. At the same time, it fostered a hostile environment for migrants, culminating in increased mortality risks through the adoption of dangerous transit routes. The political realignment following the July 26, 2023 coup d’état catalyzed a policy reassessment that led to the law’s repeal. This legislative volte-face not only signifies a pivot in Niger’s stance towards EU migration policies but also highlights the complex interplay between internal socio-political and economic imperatives and human rights imperatives in migration management.
Economic Backlash: Increased Precariousness for Local Population’s Livelihoods
The enactment of Law 2015-36, a cornerstone in Niger-EU migration cooperation, had far-reaching implications beyond its intended scope. This law, aiming to curb migrant flows through criminalizing essential services like transportation and accommodation, devastated Agadez’s economy. The region, which had developed a substantial transit economy around migration, employing approximately 6,000 people, faced an abrupt halt with the law’s implementation. Simultaneously, the closure of uranium mines in Agadez, a significant source of employment, compounded the economic crisis. The Nigerien government and the EU’s attempts to mitigate these effects through financial compensation and retraining initiatives under the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa (EUTF) proved insufficient. In Agadez, they launched a Rapid Economic Impact Action Plan aimed at balancing police and judicial action with economic support measures. However, the broader impact of the law on the economy remained an acute concern.
Creation of Hostile Environment Leading to Humanitarian Disaster for Migrants
The enactment of Law 2015-36, intended to protect migrants from unscrupulous smugglers, has not only exacerbated the precariousness of local livelihoods but has also created a hostile environment that has culminated in a humanitarian disaster for migrants. It fostered the emergence of underground migrant transportation networks and the development of more dangerous and isolated routes. These changes significantly heightened the dangers of traversing the Sahara Desert, leading to an increase in mortality rates among migrants. Since 2015, the Missing Migrants Project estimated that more than 1,329 migrants have died while attempting to cross the Sahara, including 1,092 who died crossing its Nigerien part. Beyond this, a geospatial and geostatistical analysis conducted by Border Forensics at three critical locations along the Dirkou – Sabha axis revealed a direct correlation between the enactment of this law, the intensified border control measures that followed, and the spatial evolution of migrant trajectories deeper into the desert. In these remote areas, the likelihood of survival sharply decreases in the face of common adversities such as vehicle breakdowns, abandonments, and water shortages.
Furthermore, the analysis observed that the less detectable a route is, the higher the mortality risk for the migrants traversing it. This outcome is a direct result of the hostile environment created by the law, which pushed migrant routes towards more concealed and dangerous areas. The need for migrants to avoid detection exacerbates dehydration risks, as even minor efforts to stay hidden significantly increase sweat loss. This trend highlights a stark correlation between the route’s invisibility and danger level post-2015. As a result, the difficulties in accessing the main road and finding help have increased, leading to a higher likelihood of migrants suffering from cognitive disorders, dehydration, and heatstroke. Deviating even slightly from the main road greatly amplifies the risks of dehydration and, consequently, death.
Geopolitical, Socioeconomic and Humanitarian Implications of Repealing the Law
The repeal of Niger’s migration legislation portends a series of profound developments across multiple domains. From an economic perspective, this repeal transpires amidst a gradual diminution in gold mining activities – a sector that had absorbed a significant proportion of migrant transporters following the Law 2015-36. This sectoral shift acquires further complexity in light of the stringent economic and financial sanctions imposed by ECOWAS coupled with the cessation of international budgetary aid, a critical concern given that external funding constitutes over 50% of Niger’s national budget. For the incumbent authorities, the rescindment of this law fulfills a bifurcated objective: it serves to mitigate the socio-political and economic strains engendered by the sanctions, thereby garnering support for their sovereigntist political doctrine, and simultaneously it confronts the antagonism manifested by the EU towards them.
Beyond the realms of politics and geopolitics, the law’s abrogation confers tangible advantages upon migrant populations. Without restrictive and punitive legal provisions, migrants acquire enhanced freedom and safety in their transit across the nation, effectively reducing the hazards associated with alternative, frequently hazardous travel routes. Consequently, migrants can now travel in relative safety in weekly convoys escorted by the military from Agadez to Dirkou, a practice that was common before the passage of the aforementioned law. However, migrants will certainly have to contend with the extortionate practices of the defense and security forces. Thus, this policy reversal is a significant repudiation of the EU’s migration strategy in the Sahel.
Moreover, the repeal of a stringent legislative and punitive framework attenuates the influence of various European initiatives targeting migration flow in Niger, initiatives spearheaded by international entities such as the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). By reverting to the pre-2015 legislative landscape, the repeal effectively renders null the political and financial investments made by European actors in these reformative endeavors, marking a pivotal juncture in the migration narrative of the region.
The repeal of Niger’s Law 2015-36 represents a watershed moment in migration management, shedding light on the intricate dance between local realities and international policy. This turn of events in Niger is a stark reminder of the complexities involved in migration governance. It underscores the necessity for policies that are not only responsive to geopolitical shifts but also empathetic to the human dimension of migration. The Nigerien scenario emphasizes the imperative for policies that are grounded in the realities of those most affected – the migrants and local communities. It advocates for a balanced approach that harmonizes security needs with humanitarian concerns. This case study serves as a critical lesson for the global community: effective migration management requires a nuanced, sustainable, and collaborative approach, one that respects the dignity and rights of individuals while addressing the broader socio-political dynamics at play.