In last few weeks, all major European newspapers have been full of reports on increasing waves of migration from West Africa via Senegal and Mauritania to Canary Islands. At about the same time, the EU representatives signed an agreement with Tunisia regarding further control and solution-making of irregular migration from Africa via the North African country. Why Tunis? Tunisia is very close to Italy and Italy receives enormous number of migrants every year. Tunisia is also much safer than Libya for migrants from Sub-Saharan Africa who are also pushed from Algeria.
Economic stagnation, failed integration and continuous flows of migrants from Africa and the Middle East to Europe have led many countries to revise their migration policies. Traditionally welcoming Sweden is reinventing its immigration policy and dissatisfaction with daily criminal activities of the gangs, and radicalisation of Islamic groups in Sweden led Jimmie Åkesson, leader of the Swedish Democrats to claim that Sweden must begin with confiscation of property of those who preach anti-democratic, anti-Swedish and homophobic propaganda. Public opinion in Germany witnesses serious changes as the majority of people associates migration with disadvantages and that the integration of migrants into the society is rather bad.
Migration (not only) from West Africa is a long-term phenomenon. International terrorism, covid-19 pandemics and financial crises combined with coups, socio-economic frustration and demographic pressures helped to create atmosphere of uncertainty about the future. This is where global and local interfere. Social scientist came up with the concept of “existential mobility” to describe a situation in which a potential migrant is motivated by “existential stuckedness” or by the fact that he/she is “moving too slowly.”
Besides Senegal and Mauritania, it is Niger that has traditionally served as a migration hub, particularly Agadez can claim to be called this way. “Here, all the paths lead through Niger and especially through Agadez - migrants, smugglers, traders of all kinds,” my colleague Aziz – operating an NGO dealing with migrants – tells me when I want to know more about migration in Niger. Indeed, because of its location, Niger is at the centre of the action when it comes to migrant routes, smuggling weapons, drugs and other goods across the Sahel and from the Gulf of Guinea to North Africa. In 2015, Niger became a major EU partner in the region to control the migration flows for which the country received financial compensations. After the summer 2023 coup, this partnership may become questioned. This becomes even more actual when seeing Russia sending migrants to the borders of Finland as has been recently discussed particularly by the Nordic media as part of Russia’s hybrid war against Nordic countries (Finland in particular) due to NATO membership.
The Agadez region covers roughly half of Niger and much of it is in the desert. It was Agadez that became one of the centres of action in West Africa after the fall of the Qaddafi regime in Libya in 2011, as smuggling of all kinds, including the migration business, boomed. During the Qaddafi era, cross-border traffic was more controlled, and there were no militias on either the Nigerian or Libyan sides to make life difficult for ordinary civilians.
Since 2015, however, the situation started to change with the reinforcement of the EUCAP Sahel Niger mission. The number of people returned from Libya and Algeria has increased. “When migrants are returned from Algeria or Libya, they are brought to the village of Assamaka 15km from the border, there are two types of convoys, one that carries citizens of Niger, the other that carries citizens of other countries, they are then sent to Arlit, Agadez, Niamey and finally to their original homelands, most often Nigerians, Malians, citizens of Guinea,” Aziz adds.
Sexual abuse, and sex work is a usual part of female journey to freedom as documented for instance by a recent book Global Sex, written by Sine Plombech, or stories of many young ladies especially (but not only) from Nigeria.
Besides sexual abuse and violence affecting primarily female migrants, there is the issue of banditry (not only in Niger), which has increased significantly since the fall of the Qaddafi regime in Libya. “Bandits hide in the surrounding forests and although the Nigerian army is said to know about them, the bandits have the advantage of always knowing the terrain better than the authorities.
Secondly, they use the tactic of threats, i.e. they will burn down a village as a warning to make people think twice about ‘talking’ to the authorities. There is a move to Niamey, but these people do not find enough work. The army is not able to deal with the situation not only because of the vast expanses involved, but also because all the border areas of Niger are dangerous at the moment and the army lacks the capacity and the soldiers are often afraid of the bandits, plus it is almost impossible to control the cross-border movement of people,” tells me a colleague working closely with the Prime Minister of Niger.
It is in the border areas that the situation for migrants is very critical, because Niger is a large country with such a low population density that it is almost impossible to police all the borders. In the eyes of many, the presence of French, Italian, American and other troops who are moving in part from neighbouring Mali, officially to bolster security and train the Nigerian army, have had no impact on security situation, migration, and other issues.
“Just look at the map and it's clear, Niger is and will be the crossroads of all routes leading northwards,” concludes my colleague Aziz. After the coup in Niger, nothing seems to stop migration flows from West Africa up north to Tunisia and Libya, or to the West in the direction to Senegal and Mauritania.
 See e. g. https://www.repubblica.it/solidarieta/immigrazione/2023/11/21/news/migrazioni_gli_aiuti_occidentali_alla_tunisia_alimentano_gli_abusi_contro_i_rifugiati_e_una_cattiva_gestione_dei_flussi_mig-420880094/?ref=search
 Richard Black, Alice Bellagamba et al. (2022): Migration drivers and migration choice: interrogating responses to migration and development interventions in West Africa. Comparative Migration Studies 10(1), p. 9.