Author: Daniel Thiombiano, Caritas Développement Niger*
This working paper argues that EU cooperation with Niger on migration is marked by the EU’s priority of stopping onward migration from the country altogether. It argues that the rigid focus on securitising measures, such as border control, are an attempt to turn the country into a sentinel for migration towards Europe and reinforces internal instability and structural inequality. The EU’s leverage in this regard stems from Niger’s dependence on development aid. The paper lists a range of recommendations for future relations with the EU such as taking equal account of Niger’s interest and the wider impact of EU policies, promoting greater involvement of civil society, addressing structural inequalities and human rights violations, the latter being proliferated through the EU’s current strategy.
Since 2015, the EU’s efforts to reduce irregular migration from the African continent has resulted in increased cooperation with Niger. The EU’s main involvement in Niger is formalised in its support under the EU Emergency Trust fund for Africa (EUTF), launched at the 2015 Valetta summit, as well as technical assistance to the operationalisation of the National Borders Policy 2019-2035. Although the strategic agenda laid down at the 2015 Valetta summit foresees addressing “root causes of migration” and enhanced cooperation on legal migration, the EU’s priorities in Niger are geared towards the securitisation of migration in the form of border management, effectively turning the country into a “police country” meant to prevent onward migration to Europe.
The paper notes that the agenda of cooperation on migration is effectively dictated by EU interest ignoring the national interest of Niger and the needs of the local population. The narrow focus of EU priorities without regard to their wider impact enforces internal instability and does not tackle structural causes of inequality and poverty. The EU’s leverage in this regard stems from the dependence of poor countries on development aid that has become the main channel of migration-control related funding via the EUTF. West African countries face the challenge of adhering to the EU’s migration control agenda, while at the same time endeavouring to ensure free movement in ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) and implementing their obligations of non-refoulement.
While the financial agreement between the EU and Niger officially aims to fight trafficking in human beings in the Sahel, its border control policy which aims to prevent thousands of people from migrating has led to the proliferation of trafficking networks, including those who have links to terrorism, and thereby reinforced migrants’ insecurity.
The paper argues that the EU’s externalisation of migration control implemented by African countries has resulted in flagrant violations of human rights. Cases in point are actions by the Nigerien police at the borders with Libya and Algeria as well as the violation of the right to freedom of movement enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and ECOWAS Protocol on the Free Movement of Persons.
The paper estimates that the EU’s influence constitutes 85% of the total of external influence on politics in Niger having reached unprecedent levels in the period 2015-19 and resulting in the adoption and implementation of various political and legislative frameworks.
The paper lists a range of recommendation such as taking account of the wider impact of EU policies and its undesirable effects for African partners to reconcile the interest of both partners and develop a common vision. It also suggests to promote greater involvement of civil society in monitoring of funds and negotiations of agreements, to address structural inequalities and human rights violations proliferated through current EU’s agenda and to ensure respect for the rights of migrants’ workers.
* Daniel Thiombiano is Programme Manager at Caritas Niger where he is also in charge of monitoring, evaluation and staff capacity development. His thematic focus is human mobility and migration and he is in charge of Caritas’s Project of Assistance to Migrants in Niger. Before joining Caritas Niger, he directed a savings and mutual insurance project supported by World Vision and was the Coordinator of Prisoners without Borders France in Niger.