Posted on August 9, 2023

Niger’s Military Coup Casts Doubt on EU Migration Scheme, Warn Analysts

Ben Farmer, The Telegraph, August 5, 2023

The military coup in Niger casts doubt on European Union schemes to curb migration from Africa into Europe, analysts have warned.

The landlocked West African nation’s position as a transit point on routes to Libya and the Mediterranean means it has become a bulwark of EU migration policy, receiving large sums of aid to reduce the number of people heading northward.

Those policies are now in jeopardy after the democratically elected president, Mohamed Bazoum, was removed from power by his own guards last week and the EU immediately suspended aid to the new ruling junta.

Aid groups working with migrants in the country told the Telegraph the turmoil may cut movement in the short term, after borders were closed following the takeover.

Yet if Niger descends into disorder after the coup, the takeover leads to regional conflict, or aid stops, then trafficking networks may take advantage to increase migration along the route.

Karim Manuel, Middle East and Africa analyst at the Economist Intelligence Unit, said: “Niger is the West’s most important security partner in the Sahel region and Europe relies on this strong relationship to keep migration routes through Niger closed since 2015.

“The coup now calls into question all the existing cooperation agreements between Niger and the EU, which was swift to announce cutting off all financial and security support.”

Niger is one of the world’s poorest countries and has received large sums of European aid in recent years, effectively becoming the EU’s southern most border controls for migration from sub-Saharan Africa.

The EU funded 19 projects totalling £581m from 2015 to 2022, with nearly 70 per cent of them focussing on border controls or law enforcement. Germany spent another £480m at the same time, again much of it on migration.

The EU said it was cutting financial and security support after Mr Bazoum was seized.

“In addition to the immediate cessation of budget support, all cooperation actions in the domain of security are suspended indefinitely with immediate effect,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said at the weekend.

Human trafficking fears

Regional tensions have escalated quickly following the coup, with the Ecowas bloc of neighbouring states threatening to use force if Mr Bazoum is not reinstated.

That threat was immediately challenged by Burkina Faso and Mali, who warned that any military intervention to restore the deposed president would be considered a “declaration of war” against their two countries.

Mr Karim said the turmoil was likely to distract from Niger’s fight against jihadists, as whoever was in charge diverted military resources to staying in power.

He said: “This could loosen the authorities control over migration routes which human traffickers could exploit. The aid cuts and sanctions will also hurt the Nigeriens more and could incentivise more outwards migration.”

Niger closed its borders and airspace immediately after the coup and this briefly cut movement, aid sources said.

The borders to Algeria, Burkina Faso, Mali, Libya and Chad were reopened from Tuesday.

The United Nations’ International Organisation for Migration, said the situation in Niger after the coup was “complex and evolving” and it was not immediately clear how migrants would be affected.

Paola Pace, the IOM’s chief in Niger, said: “This situation poses significant challenges for both migrants and humanitarian efforts.”

Chéhou Azizou, who runs an aid network called Alarme Phone Sahara helping migrants in danger crossing the deserts in northern Niger, predicted the turmoil may persuade some to try other routes.

He said: “I have the feeling that the migration towards Europe from Niger will slow a bit. Many migrants leaving their places of origin are afraid of the insecurity. So, it can look like fleeing from the flow of a stream and diving into an ocean.”

Aggressive policies to round up and deport migrants in north African countries like Algeria, had already made some think twice, he said. But people smugglers were also encouraging migrants not to be put off by the instability.

“The intermediaries say in their jargon that “It is during uncertain situations that brave people succeed in their mission.’” he said.

Alex Vines, of the Chatham House think tank, said: “Longer term it will depend on what happens politically in Niger over the next week. Does the junta back down? Does Ecowas intervene?”

Who exactly is running Niger and what they intend to do with Mr Bazoum remains unclear. He has still been speaking to world leaders by telephone and France has said it does not consider the coup “final”.

The country’s importance in EU migration strategy means that if the junta does stay in power, at some point Brussels will have to work with Niamey, Mr Karim predicted.

He said: “Eventually Niger’s Western partners will need to come to an agreement with the junta as it is crucial for Europe to keep migration in check and therefore maintain a working relationship with the military government.”