The EU and Niger have announced plans to work together more closely to bring an end to the activities of people smugglers. A new initiative launched last week is intended to deepen the cooperation between the two. This comes as Niger's role in combatting terrorism in the region is also increasing.
The EU and Niger launched a "Partnership to Combat Migrant Smuggling" in Brussels last Friday (July 15), which is designed to "save migrants' lives and prevent violations of their rights, strengthen the management and security of borders, and dismantle the criminal networks that are responsible for smuggling."
European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson said this partnership was urgently needed, as according to the EU, Niger is one of the biggest transit hubs for migrants crossing the African continent en route to Europe. It is also increasingly becoming a destination country for migrants.
At the launch event, Johansson stressed the fact that people continue to die on smuggling routes going through the Sahel nation, driven into their deaths by what she referred to as a false sense of hope.
"Together, we will do all we can to save migrants' lives and prevent violations of their rights, strengthen the management and security of borders, dismantle the criminal networks that are responsible for smuggling and offer genuine economic alternatives to people seeking a better life in Niger," Johansson said.
She also explained that the stories of migrants who die at Europe's borders therefore start not at the bloc's physical external border but thousands of kilometers away from it.
Niger's Interior Minister Hamadou Adamou Souley said the cooperation with the EU would help safeguard migrants, secure borders and contribute to the aim of improving the lives of both migrant and host communities.
Read more: Ten migrants found dead in Niger
Shifting gears in the fight against smuggling
Part of the deal involves the establishment of new information initiatives to highlight the dangers of irregular migration. Furthermore, the EU-Niger Joint Investigation Team (JIT) will also be strengthened with additional funds to help combat smuggling networks in Niger.
The EU said that the operational partnership comes as a response to the shared needs in tackling migrant smuggling, and is based on the renewed EU Action Plan against Migrant Smuggling (2021-2025). In a press release, the EU praised the work that Niger already had achieved in the fight against smuggling:
"The country has made considerable efforts to tackle migrant smuggling, helping to evacuate individuals affected from Libya and ensuring a dignified return home for irregular migrants. Now, the constructive cooperation between Niger and the European Union … is moving up a gear, from both an operational and a political point of view," the document read.
Read more: More migrants evacuated from Libya to Niger
Meanwhile, the EU border agency Frontex and Niger are also in negotiations to improve border protection.
"Niger and the European Union have worked together as trusted partners in the Sahel region and have been involved in several joint initiatives addressing wider migration and security issues, including the challenges of irregular migration, and focusing in particular on efforts to tackle criminal groups operating in the region in the pursuit of profit," the EU said of the existing partnership between the two.
Niger's changing role in security issues
Another key issue of cooperation between the European Union and Niger is the fight against terrorism in the Sahel region, which is sometimes conflated with migration, as smuggling networks and terrorist groups can work together to funnel funds to each other.
The EU and especially a number of EU national governments have also been working together with the governments of Sahel countries to combat terrorist activities for years.
To this end, government ministers from France and Niger also met on Friday as French forces are in the process of redefining their mission in the Sahel region following an upcoming pullout from neighboring Mali.
Niger, a former French colony, is now becoming the focus of a French intiative designed to stem jihadism through security as well as development work. Last year, the landlocked African nation received €143 million of French aid to work on related projects.
France will now make an additional €50 million in loans and €20 million as a grant available to the Nigerien government too. There will also be a boost in food aid, which will benefit its own population as well as the thousands of migrants in the country - many of whom are returned migrants who were previously stuck in Libya.
Niger is the world's poorest country according to the UN's Human Development Index. It has also been badly affected by the jihadist insurgency that began in northern Mali in 2012. It also hosts tens of thousands of internally displaced people in addition to refugees from neighboring countries and migrants from around the continent and beyond.
With dpa, AFP, EU