Niamey (Niger) – European funds in exchange for greater border controls. Easier repatriations. Quicker expulsions. In a word: border externalisation. Read the field story written by Sara Prestianni for #DivertedAid, an investigative project on the management and the impact of the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa.
European funds in exchange for greater border controls. Easier repatriations. Quicker expulsions. In a word: border externalisation. By now this is the main point of the external aspect of immigration and asylum policies, both nationally and internationally. The objective is clear: to get the countries of origin and the transit countries more and more involved in controlling the flows towards the European Union. Which is what Italy and Europe have chosen to do. They are doing this independently and also in the name of the European Union. The fact that this perspective on immigration policies has been intensified can be seen from the funds that have been allocated.
Borders controls at the heart of the political commitments
The political commitments will therefore include specific planning and investment strategies. Border externalisation involves a commitment from the African countries in exchange for funds from Europe. The partners are to control the borders, block departures and readmit the people that the European Union does not wish to have in Europe, to their countries of origin. On one hand closing the land and sea borders, and on the other hand, faster expulsion procedures, with no identification problems.
The Valletta Summit in November 2015 authorised the first step of this process. Members States of the European Union and African partners sat around the same table for the first time. The Summit decided to create a Trust Fund for Africa. In September 2016 the migration compact was established, adding another 3.35 billion euro to the total budget allocated for this purpose. In both cases, Mali and Niger were identified as priority recipient countries. Niger, because it is the main crossroads for the migratory routes to the central Mediterranean.
More yes, more funds
The Nigerien government received a total of almost 150 million euro from the Trust Fund, 92 million of which explicitly to be used to “prevent illegal immigration and forced migration”. The safety chapter. The same amount went to the leaders of Mali, but with a specific project of 40 million euros only for the integration of migrants expelled from Europe. However, the two African countries reacted differently. Niger accepted all of Brussels’ requests without hesitating and became a “model” in the strategy of border externalisation. A bit like Turkey on the Eastern Mediterranean route. The decision was simple, as far as the public opinion in Niamey, was concerned, since most of the migrants in these immigration flows are not Nigerien. It was different in Mali. The Bamako government expressed stronger resistance, considering the effect of the Malian diaspora on the country’s economy. But this did not stop negotiations with the EU regarding funds and other forms of collaboration.
In his office in Niamey, Mohamed Bazoum, the Minister of State for the Interior, explains how Niger has become a fundamental country in the system that Europe has set up: “Since June we have been implementing a policy that has made it possible for us to drastically reduce the number of people who come into our country with the intention of continuing their journey to Italy”. This policy involves the use of several instruments and the focus is on enforcing Law n. 36 of 2015, the national law against trafficking which, continues Bazoum, “has made it possible for us to intercept 113 vehicles and put 126 people in prison”. The accusation is the same for everyone: human trafficking. They risk spending 5 to 10 years in jail. However the 126 criminals in question, who risk spending several years in jail, are certainly not the traffickers who get rich on the suffering of the migrants. They are young men from Agadez, who know the Ténéré and the most frequently used routes to the Libyan and Algeria borders.
The “criminals” of Agadez
The Governor of the Agadez region Mohamed Anacko, who can clearly see the impact of the decisions of the central government on his city, does not have the same opinion as the Minister Bazoum: “The young men who have been arrested are not criminals. People think that everyone involved in the flow of migrants are criminals just because the law says they are. But none of these young men have ever behaved like criminals”. Following the agreements it was the city of Agadez, “the gateway to the desert”, that paid the highest price. The migration routes have always represented the backbone of the whole economy here. And what used to be the main local source of income, has in a matter of just a few months, become a phenomenon to be criminalized and made invisible.
The formula that was proposed by the European Union and that Niamey accepted, mainly involves training Nigerien policemen. The Eucap Sahel anti-terrorism mission is dealing with this. The objective is to stop as many vehicles as possible, and therefore migrants, on their way from Agadez to Libya and Algeria. But the history of migration teaches us that closing one route does not stop the phenomenon at all.
The parallel routes
If anything, it shifts it onto parallel routes, which are often more dangerous and more expensive, especially in terms of the loss of human lives. Two new routes have been opened since October, in order to avoid the increased number of checkpoints at the gates of Agadez. The first one crosses Mali. It’s an old route, which was abandoned after the conflict in the north of the country. Travelling from Gao, once the migrants are in Algeria, they can try and get into Europe by crossing Libya or Morocco.
The second one however, like the recent routes, starts from Agadez and goes to the border between Niger and Libya but it takes the migrants off the more frequently used tracks. When the migrants travel along less known routes, they become easier prey for the many groups of armed bandits that attack people in this godforsaken area of the desert. There is also a greater risk of a small problem with the engine of the pickup turning into a tragedy. Niamey’s intentions are clear: to increase checkpoints in the region with soldiers present at all the “water stations”.
Essential stopovers for stocking up on water, which is fundamental for people who spend days and days in the desert. By controlling the water stations they control the routes. The Government of Niamey knows this well and in requesting that the funds be sent directly to its treasury, it does not seem to worry at all about the increase in the number of tragedies in the desert that this will cause. “We have asked for military infrastructures”, says Interior Minister Bazoum, “because it is the army that does this job. We need barracks, and vehicles to get around and travel long distances, so that the soldiers can be present at the water stations”.
530 million euro requested by Niamey
Bazoum knows how many funds Niger needs in order to serve as guardians of the desert: 350 billion FCFA, 533 million euro. Italy immediately answered the request by allocating 50 million euro from the Fund for Africa, as well as its contribution to the Trust Fund. This is all contained in the Budget 2017 item that is intended for international cooperation, despite the fact that these funds will pay for vehicles and instruments that will be used to control people.
But the impact of this on the life of the migrants worries the local associations: “According to us, these decisions will make the migrants even more vulnerable. Because the more dangerous the routes, the more risks the migrants take”, says Hassane Boukar, of the Nigerien Association Alternative Espace Citoyens. This association also underlines, in a report on the region, that the transport prices have increased since the increase in controls have made the routes have become more difficult: the journey from Agadez to Sabha in Libya went up from 80,000 FCFA in July 2016 to 150,000 in March 2017. The report emphasizes that the preventive and dissuasive measures taken together by the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Justice also violate the ECOWAS protocol on free movement.
Bamako against readmission agreement of migrants
Mali has a different attitude from that of Niger and is open to dialogue but it will not change its mind about refusing to sign a readmission agreement. This agreement will make it easier to expel irregular Malian citizens in Europe, so it would create tension with the diaspora, which up to today has been the country’s main source of income. “Four million Malians live abroad”, says Boulaye Keita, a technical advisor to the Ministry of Malians Abroad, “practically every single family is affected by this phenomenon”. The 2015 statistics show that the Malian diaspora has put 130 million euro back into the country’s economy, without counting all the informal transactions. For Keita, who attended all the meetings in Valletta as his country’s representative, the discussion about issues regarding the possible signature of a readmissions agreement, is over. “The last official and political statement regarding this issue”, says Keita, “was the one issued by the President of the Republic, during the Africa-France Summit, which says that Mali will not sign. We did not sign and we are not going to”. This does not mean that Mali refuses expulsions. It prefers to expel people without upsetting the sensitive situation of its diaspora. However, the approval of the 25 million euro project to produce biometric identification for Malians is taking matters in that direction. Keita states perfectly clearly that this project, despite the fact that it is often presented as a form of modernization of the country, “is very interesting for our European friends”. “If you arrest someone in Europe”, Keita states, “and he has biometric papers, he cannot deny that he is Malian”.
By Sara Prestianni (ARCI‘s Immigration office).
Picture credit: A migrant at the IOM Transit Centre in Agadez. Sara Prestianni.
This investigation has been funded throuh “The Innovation in Development Reporting Grant Programme” (IDR), a media-funding project operated by the European Journalism Centre (EJC).
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