The 2015 law penalised those who crossed the Niger border illegally, a repeal that comes in response to EU sanctions

Niger law repeal threatens Tunisia and Libya with wave of illegal migration

REUTERS/AHMED JADALLAH - El extremo suroeste de Libia, en el Sáhara, en la frontera con Argelia y Níger, se ha convertido en una puerta abierta para los inmigrantes ilegales de los países subsaharianos que se dirigen para Europa
photo_camera REUTERS/AHMED JADALLAH - Libya's southwestern corner of the Sahara, on the border with Algeria and Niger, has become an open door for illegal immigrants from sub-Saharan countries heading for Europe

Niger's military junta has set alarm bells ringing on the Tunisian and Libyan borders. Following the European Union's sanctions notice, Niger has opted to repeal a law sanctioning illegal border crossings, and a major surge in migration flows is expected, with the focus on Tunisia and Libya. However, as in all these cases, the final destination will be the European continent.

The Prime Minister's spokesman, Ali Al-Amin Zein, announced that the leader of the military junta, Abderrahmane Tiani, had repealed this law. Moreover, he claimed that he had done so in response to the sanctions announced by EU High Representative Jose Borrell, who said that these sanctions "send a clear message that military coups have a price". Now, however, all indications are that the threat is to Europe, which suspended security cooperation and ended financial support to Niger after the coup.

- Migrantes observan cómo un hombre arregla sus pertenencias en la parte trasera de un camión en un centro de tránsito de inmigración local en la ciudad desértica de Agadez, Níger
REUTERS/AKINTUNDE AKINLEYE - Migrants watch as a man arranges his belongings in the back of a truck at a local immigration transit centre in the desert town of Agadez, Niger

On 23 October, Brussels announced that a new legal framework had been adopted to deal with individuals or entities that "threaten the peace, stability and security of Niger". Despite announcing the first measures that, according to the EU, would target those who "undermine the constitutional order or commit serious violations of human rights or international humanitarian law", the nature of these measures and their specific magnitude have not yet been revealed.

What is known in advance is that the sanctions package will include an asset freeze and travel ban. However, observers are already pointing out that this could have more negative than positive consequences for the Old Continent, especially given the measures taken by Niger. There is now a real possibility that tens of thousands will reach the shores of the Mediterranean from Tunisia, arriving there via Libya and Algeria.

REUTERS/JOE PENNEY - Migrantes nigerinos, que viajan hacia el norte en dirección a Libia, viajan encima de un camión en Agadez
REUTERS/JOE PENNEY - Nigerian migrants, travelling north towards Libya, ride on top of a truck in Agadez

Algeria is precisely one of the countries that motivated the 2015 law sanctioning illegal migrants. By encouraging these migratory movements, Algeria was jeopardising the security of the Nigerian country and, consequently, of the border crossings, which were - and will be even more so now - used as a means of escape to Europe. Hence, the 2015 law included the entire chain of actors involved in migratory trafficking, including the smugglers who do business with this activity.

The European Union, at that time, aligned itself with Niger and created a fund worth 1.88 billion euros with the aim of putting an end to this problem. In this case, the focus was on the Sahel region, the Horn and North Africa. In fact, the good relationship between Paris and Niamey facilitated a framework of collaboration against irregular migration, which was shattered by the coup against President Mohamed Bazoum on 27 July this year.

REUTERS/AFOLABI SOTUNDE - Repatriados nigerianos de Níger esperan ser procesados por el servicio de inmigración de Nigeria en Damasak, Borno, Nigeria
REUTERS/AFOLABI SOTUNDE - Nigerian returnees from Niger wait to be processed by the Nigerian immigration service in Damasak, Borno, Nigeria

In this context, and with the Nigerian military junta's new measure, both Tunisia and Libya are alert to the foreseeable wave of migration. It should not be forgotten that Libya currently hosts more than 700,000 illegal migrants, according to the International Organisation for Migration. Tunisia, for its part, has around 100,000, the vast majority of whom are there as a transit country on their way to Europe. And there is every indication that the repeal of the 2015 law will cause these numbers to grow exponentially.

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