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16:40

Niger: Europe’s new ‘frontier’ destroying Africa’s migrant transit hub

August 06, 2018 at 06:01 GMT +00:00 · Published

In central Niger's Saharan city of Agadez, a new crisis seems to be developing.

Trucks carrying people from across Africa still arrive in this traditional transport hub — which served as a gateway between sub-Saharan and North Africa for centuries— but now there are just a few, and for most, their journey ends here regardless of the destination.

Pregnant women and children carrying younger children clamber down from the trucks that have transported them for days through the Sahara.

It is here, queuing for aid at a makeshift desk in the desert, they discover the reality of what awaits. The queue leads nowhere. Most hoped this was the final stop before continuing another 1,000 miles (1,600km) to Libya where Europe beckoned if they were fortunate enough not to drown at sea.

But under a deal struck with the European Union to stem the migration crisis, this is where their desert journey ends – at a line in Africa’s sand enforced by the EU at the 2015 Valletta Summit on Migration, where the EU leaders pledged an Emergency Trust Fund to African countries on the condition they keep the migrant crisis at bay.

Meanwhile, Niger is now the recipient of large-scale EU aid. For the period 2017-2020, EU development assistance to Niger will total €1 billion.

Even European Parliament President Antonio Tajani hailed the Niger model a feat to be copied by other Sahel countries during a visit here in July.

But, dubbed the new southern border of Europe, all routes north of Agadez are now barred.

The city bus station used to be packed with commuters from across Africa as some 350 people a day passed checkpoints between Niamey and Agadez. Now that number has dwindled to around 100 a week.

Migration towards the north from Niger was legal until 2011 with the majority of people traveling through Agadez heading to Libya, which was more prosperous. However, after NATO's intervention, the fall of Gaddafi and the subsequent chaos in Libya, more people began seeing Europe as their final destination via the traditional route. Many though were still heading to the likes of Libya and Algeria in search of work.

All of this began to change in August 2016 when Nigerian officials implemented a controversial anti-smuggling law which effectively criminalised the transport of migrants. The law was previously passed in 2015, under heavy pressure from the European Union, which offered Niger aid and developmental assistance in exchange for more robust cooperation on immigration enforcement.

Radio Sahara FM Presenter Ibrahim Manzo Diallo has been charting the decline of Agadez since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi.

He said: "Since what happened in 2011 and the fall of Muammar Gaddafi's regime, a new dimension was given to migration. Young Africans who couldn't stay in their countries started to flock to Europe. It is like during this entire time, Europe allowed, by breaking Gaddafi's wall, [allowed] the African youth to leave for Europe. And the same Europe now wants to stop it.

“In Agadez, we are becoming Europe's waste plant. What is going to happen now is that all the repelled who are coming back from Algeria and Libya, will stop by Agadez … The new border of the European Union is not on the other side of the Mediterranean, not on this side of the Mediterranean in Libya. No, it is just here at the exit of Agadez. This is the new border of the European Union.”

Those who do still make it to Europe face being sent back to their point of origin, but with depleted resources.

One man had already made it to Italy before he was returned back to the middle of the Sahara.

He said: "After Libya, I want to enter Italy. After Italy, I see the situation at home, go to Italy, and then they tell me returning back... I not get water to drink. I not get food to eat. I am suffering for the road. I spent money, many money.”

And this is where their money ends – a big white tent with no respite from the intense heat, snakes and scorpions.

Families gather their belongings together, eat what little food they have, before packing up their possessions and moving on, but not to the destination they desire.

And this is where most will end up – a makeshift tent city called Sabon Gari on the outskirts of Agadez.

Hundreds of families living together in tiny pitched tents.

Women rummage through a toxic waste dump trying to find food for their families, children play amongst the rubbish as horses run wild – it is a far cry from the life most dreamed they would be living when they began their journey.

And it is not just the migrants who are suffering in this city under what many dub 'Europe’s migration laboratory.'

In the shadows of the city’s famous mosque, the bus station resembles an empty car park. Few traders come to sell their wares in a place without customers.

The once bustling market looks empty now the migration trade has all but disappeared.

And those who make their living as market traders have seen drastic cuts.

Mohamed said: "The economy is really stuck because of migration. I don't think migration should be blocked as the young Africans want to move to improve their knowledge. Students who cannot study here leave in order improve their knowledge. What happens now is not good. We want migration to be free. It is better that people leave and go there. We blocked a lot of things because of migration."

Former passeurs, as they were known, still remember the good old days when trade thrived, and they have the books to prove it.

The former owner of 'Agence de courtage de l'Air travel', Issa Iklila, explained: "Agadez's economy was not a hundred times but a thousand times [stronger before]. The migrants came a lot and bought a lot of things in the city. They were paying taxes, patents, city hall stamps, vehicles. There was a lot of revenue. Now, in the Agadez region, our economy doesn't even represent ten percent of [what it had been]. Maybe only five percent.

"There are some days when my family doesn't eat. Sometimes, we eat in the morning and sleep like that until the next day [to eat again]. This is not a joke, I swear."

Everywhere you look in this city - home to 118,000 people - there are signs of decline.

Activist Rachid Kollo from the Member of Movement for Democratic Revolution and President of Framework for Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy, said: "Agadez, economically, only lives on this [migrants], since the time of the caravans until now. We lost the Paris-Dakar rally and also tourism. And today, given the fact that several African countries find themselves mired in [difficulties] now, including poor governance, we will talk about this afterwards, it is normal that young Africans move.”

At night, the police conduct raids on smuggler and travel companies who refuse to follow the ban on travel north for foreigners.

By day, security forces patrol the area hoping to catch travellers in their tracks.

Behind a barbed fence, hundreds of pick-up trucks once used to transport migrants and refugees sit abandoned, seized by the government under an EU promise of aid.

But that has not stopped all smuggling, and the price is often high for those desperate to get out of Agadez.

People smuggler Ali Tuareg said: "Before there was no problem. Before we were free, free in our work. We could even let our migrants stand in front of a police station without any fear. Now, when we have our migrants, we need to find a location where nobody can know that there is a human being living there."

Even at City Hall, they mourn the financial decline of the city, and the failure of the EU to deliver on their promises for stopping migration.

Deputy Mayor of Agadez, Aboubacar Ajoual, said: "It's true we submitted projects and announcements from the European Union but they were a total disappointment on all levels. Not even 50 percent of what was announced was done. This law had been adopted since 2015, so it’s been three years. So it is normal that there is frustration or even despair. If people who were making money before this law, are now without any activity, even though it was promised to them, they can’t make money and they may never be able to. There was hope, and now they are in a complicated situation."

Once one of Africa’s major transport hubs, Agadez is now unable to sustain itself and has no road ahead.

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In central Niger's Saharan city of Agadez, a new crisis seems to be developing.

Trucks carrying people from across Africa still arrive in this traditional transport hub — which served as a gateway between sub-Saharan and North Africa for centuries— but now there are just a few, and for most, their journey ends here regardless of the destination.

Pregnant women and children carrying younger children clamber down from the trucks that have transported them for days through the Sahara.

It is here, queuing for aid at a makeshift desk in the desert, they discover the reality of what awaits. The queue leads nowhere. Most hoped this was the final stop before continuing another 1,000 miles (1,600km) to Libya where Europe beckoned if they were fortunate enough not to drown at sea.

But under a deal struck with the European Union to stem the migration crisis, this is where their desert journey ends – at a line in Africa’s sand enforced by the EU at the 2015 Valletta Summit on Migration, where the EU leaders pledged an Emergency Trust Fund to African countries on the condition they keep the migrant crisis at bay.

Meanwhile, Niger is now the recipient of large-scale EU aid. For the period 2017-2020, EU development assistance to Niger will total €1 billion.

Even European Parliament President Antonio Tajani hailed the Niger model a feat to be copied by other Sahel countries during a visit here in July.

But, dubbed the new southern border of Europe, all routes north of Agadez are now barred.

The city bus station used to be packed with commuters from across Africa as some 350 people a day passed checkpoints between Niamey and Agadez. Now that number has dwindled to around 100 a week.

Migration towards the north from Niger was legal until 2011 with the majority of people traveling through Agadez heading to Libya, which was more prosperous. However, after NATO's intervention, the fall of Gaddafi and the subsequent chaos in Libya, more people began seeing Europe as their final destination via the traditional route. Many though were still heading to the likes of Libya and Algeria in search of work.

All of this began to change in August 2016 when Nigerian officials implemented a controversial anti-smuggling law which effectively criminalised the transport of migrants. The law was previously passed in 2015, under heavy pressure from the European Union, which offered Niger aid and developmental assistance in exchange for more robust cooperation on immigration enforcement.

Radio Sahara FM Presenter Ibrahim Manzo Diallo has been charting the decline of Agadez since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi.

He said: "Since what happened in 2011 and the fall of Muammar Gaddafi's regime, a new dimension was given to migration. Young Africans who couldn't stay in their countries started to flock to Europe. It is like during this entire time, Europe allowed, by breaking Gaddafi's wall, [allowed] the African youth to leave for Europe. And the same Europe now wants to stop it.

“In Agadez, we are becoming Europe's waste plant. What is going to happen now is that all the repelled who are coming back from Algeria and Libya, will stop by Agadez … The new border of the European Union is not on the other side of the Mediterranean, not on this side of the Mediterranean in Libya. No, it is just here at the exit of Agadez. This is the new border of the European Union.”

Those who do still make it to Europe face being sent back to their point of origin, but with depleted resources.

One man had already made it to Italy before he was returned back to the middle of the Sahara.

He said: "After Libya, I want to enter Italy. After Italy, I see the situation at home, go to Italy, and then they tell me returning back... I not get water to drink. I not get food to eat. I am suffering for the road. I spent money, many money.”

And this is where their money ends – a big white tent with no respite from the intense heat, snakes and scorpions.

Families gather their belongings together, eat what little food they have, before packing up their possessions and moving on, but not to the destination they desire.

And this is where most will end up – a makeshift tent city called Sabon Gari on the outskirts of Agadez.

Hundreds of families living together in tiny pitched tents.

Women rummage through a toxic waste dump trying to find food for their families, children play amongst the rubbish as horses run wild – it is a far cry from the life most dreamed they would be living when they began their journey.

And it is not just the migrants who are suffering in this city under what many dub 'Europe’s migration laboratory.'

In the shadows of the city’s famous mosque, the bus station resembles an empty car park. Few traders come to sell their wares in a place without customers.

The once bustling market looks empty now the migration trade has all but disappeared.

And those who make their living as market traders have seen drastic cuts.

Mohamed said: "The economy is really stuck because of migration. I don't think migration should be blocked as the young Africans want to move to improve their knowledge. Students who cannot study here leave in order improve their knowledge. What happens now is not good. We want migration to be free. It is better that people leave and go there. We blocked a lot of things because of migration."

Former passeurs, as they were known, still remember the good old days when trade thrived, and they have the books to prove it.

The former owner of 'Agence de courtage de l'Air travel', Issa Iklila, explained: "Agadez's economy was not a hundred times but a thousand times [stronger before]. The migrants came a lot and bought a lot of things in the city. They were paying taxes, patents, city hall stamps, vehicles. There was a lot of revenue. Now, in the Agadez region, our economy doesn't even represent ten percent of [what it had been]. Maybe only five percent.

"There are some days when my family doesn't eat. Sometimes, we eat in the morning and sleep like that until the next day [to eat again]. This is not a joke, I swear."

Everywhere you look in this city - home to 118,000 people - there are signs of decline.

Activist Rachid Kollo from the Member of Movement for Democratic Revolution and President of Framework for Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy, said: "Agadez, economically, only lives on this [migrants], since the time of the caravans until now. We lost the Paris-Dakar rally and also tourism. And today, given the fact that several African countries find themselves mired in [difficulties] now, including poor governance, we will talk about this afterwards, it is normal that young Africans move.”

At night, the police conduct raids on smuggler and travel companies who refuse to follow the ban on travel north for foreigners.

By day, security forces patrol the area hoping to catch travellers in their tracks.

Behind a barbed fence, hundreds of pick-up trucks once used to transport migrants and refugees sit abandoned, seized by the government under an EU promise of aid.

But that has not stopped all smuggling, and the price is often high for those desperate to get out of Agadez.

People smuggler Ali Tuareg said: "Before there was no problem. Before we were free, free in our work. We could even let our migrants stand in front of a police station without any fear. Now, when we have our migrants, we need to find a location where nobody can know that there is a human being living there."

Even at City Hall, they mourn the financial decline of the city, and the failure of the EU to deliver on their promises for stopping migration.

Deputy Mayor of Agadez, Aboubacar Ajoual, said: "It's true we submitted projects and announcements from the European Union but they were a total disappointment on all levels. Not even 50 percent of what was announced was done. This law had been adopted since 2015, so it’s been three years. So it is normal that there is frustration or even despair. If people who were making money before this law, are now without any activity, even though it was promised to them, they can’t make money and they may never be able to. There was hope, and now they are in a complicated situation."

Once one of Africa’s major transport hubs, Agadez is now unable to sustain itself and has no road ahead.

W/S Sandstorm at unfinished Agadez airport tower

W/S Trucks carrying migrants arrive

M/S Migrants get off truck

M/S Migrants get off truck

M/S Women and children queue

M/S Men queue for aid agency

M/S Migrants queue for aid agency

M/S Aid agency speaks to migrants

SOT, Migrant (Ghanaian pidgin English): "After Libya, I want to enter Italy. After Italy, I see the situation at home, go Italy, and then they tell me returning back. So, so many things, we passed my my brothers. So they make me come, this place, I forgot the name, sir? - Agadez."

M/S Aid agency speaks to migrants

SOT, Migrant (Ghanaian pidgin English): "Friend suffering. If you know water, drinks are hard for me. I not get water to drink. Eat serve. I not get food to eat. I am suffering for the road. I spent money, many money."

M/S Makeshift tent city

M/S Inside tent

M/S Inside tent

C/U Families eating

C/U Families pack possesions

W/S Makeshift refugee camp

M/S Families in tents

M/S Families in tents

W/S Makeshift refugee camp

M/S Empty bus station

M/S Empty bus station

M/S Street scene

M/S Quiet market

M/S Butcher chopping meat

C/U Butcher chopping meat

SOT, Mohamed (French): "The economy is really stuck because of migration. I don't think migration should be blocked as the young Africans want to move to improve their knowledge. Students who cannot study here leave in order improve their knowledge."

C/U Chickens

SOT, Mohamed (French): "What happens now is not good. We want migration to be free. It is better that people leave and go there. We blocked a lot of things because of migration."

M/S Jounalist Diallo

SOT, Ibrahim Manzo Diallo, Journalist and Director of magazine Air Info and Radio Sahara FM (French): "Since what happened in 2011 and the fall of Muammar Gaddafi's regime, a new dimension was given to migration. Young Africans who couldn't stay in their countries started to flock to Europe. It is like during this entire time, Europe allowed, by breaking Gaddafi's wall, [allowed] the African youth to leave for Europe. And the same Europe now wants to stop it. Frankly, in Agadez, we don't understand anything. It is not me as a journalist who says that, but the whole of the Agadez population doesn't understands the European Union. The political European Union, not its population. The European Union herself sawed off the tree that protected it by removing Gaddafi. This is what people say here. And then Europe comes spending money to stop something that had already been stopped. It is staggering. But what shocks us here in Agadez, is that since Europe didn't want to see the young Africans move there, it criminalised everything Agadez does in terms of transport between cities. Everyone who takes passengers to bring them to Dirkou or Bilma are criminals and get arrested. But no, my friends of European Union politics, Africa is heading towards unity. By displacing the European Union's barriers to Agadez, you are killing the African union's integration."

C/U Cutaway hands

SOT, Ibrahim Manzo Diallo, Journalist and Director of magazine Air Info and Radio Sahara FM (French): "This the problem. That's what staggering for us. In Agadez, we are becoming Europe's waste plant. What is going to happen now is that all the repelled who are coming back from Algeria and Libya, will stop by Agadez."

C/U Cutaway hands

SOT, Ibrahim Manzo Diallo, Journalist and Director of magazine Air Info and Radio Sahara FM (French): "The new border of the European Union is not on the other side of the Mediterranean, not on this side of the Mediterranean in Libya. No, it is just here at the exit of Agadez. This is the new border of the European Union."

C/U Old passenger log

SOT, Issa Iklila, Former passeur (transporter) and owner of travel agency Agence de courtage de l'Air (French): "I am Issa Iklila, and I am a former transporter working with the buses here in Agadez. I never worked outside buses. I made all my career around buses."

C/U Cutaway logs

SOT, Issa Iklila, Former passeur (transporter) and owner of travel agency Agence de courtage de l'Air (French): "The Agadez's economy was not a hundred times but a thousand times [stronger before]. The migrants came a lot and bought a lot of things in the city. They were paying taxes, patents, city hall stamps, vehicles. There was a lot of revenue. Now, in the Agadez region, our economy doesn't even represent ten percent of [what it had been]. Maybe only five percent."

C/U Lists of previous passengers

SOT, Issa Iklila, Former passeur (transporter) and owner of travel agency Agence de courtage de l'Air (French): "There are some days when my family doesn't eat. Sometimes, we eat in the morning and sleep like that until the next day [to eat again]. This is not a joke, I swear."

M/S International Organisation for Migration sign

SOT, Rachid Kollo, Member of Movement for Democratic Revolution and President of Framework for Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy (French): "Our organisation works at restoring and safeguarding democracy and all its components, and we also fight for the respect of human dignity and everything that has to do with human rights. We are doing our best to raise awarness, educate, safeguard and protect the human being. So when we talk about human rights, we naturally talk about what bothers us most here in Agadez, which is migration. Migration through the European Union's policy and the fight against migration. We realised that the European Union's policy only aims to eradicate migration, erase migration movements. This is an aberration to us, human stupidity."

M/S Police on raid

W/S Security forces on patrol

C/U Barbed fence

M/S Seized transport trucks

SOT, Ali Tuareg, People smuggler and driver from Agadez (French): "I work with my uncle. My uncle is also a passeur. He has a foyer where he receives the migrants. Then I take these migrants from Agadez to their destination, which is Libya."

M/S Street scene

SOT, Ali Tuareg, People smuggler and driver from Agadez (French): "It's been ten or 11 years that I have worked with my uncle. My uncle was arrested when the new law was introduced, and he went to jail. So, I stopped driving. I had to take my uncle's place and try to receive migrants and so that they could travel."

M/S Cutaway shades

SOT, Ali Tuareg, People smugglerand driver from Agadez (French): "Before there was no problem. Before we were free, free in our work. We could even let our migrants stand in front of a police station without any fear. Now, when we have our migrants, we need to find a location where nobody can know that there is a human being living there. Even in order take them from a train station, we need to do it covertly. In order to place them in a house, you need to be sure that nobody sees you. The same thing when it comes to transporting them. There are always risks."

M/S Town Hall

M/S Town Hall entrance

M/S Deputy Mayor working

SOT, Aboubacar Ajoual, Agadez Deputy Mayor (French): "It is true that Agadez and its region are the most affected by the migration factor. Before the introduction of the law 2015-036, migration was the money-making activity, not only for territorial jurisdictions but also for transit cities. There were enough revenues in a community level, in order to satisfy the needs of families. So even from the point of you of the market, these people, before leaving for Dirkou or Libya, participated in the local economy to buy supplies. So the economy was solid. So we feel the consequences of this migration, on the level of the economy."

C/U Deputy Mayor working

SOT, Aboubacar Ajoual, Agadez Deputy Mayor (French): "Now, with the law 2015-036, the state took all legislative dispositions to end the massacre that is happening in the Sahara. Now, if we look at the migratory flow, if we compare numbers of people passing through Agadez to cross into Libya, we see a reduction. The numbers of people that pass from Agadez to go to Libye [are less]. The numbers are lower. This is thanks to the 'policy of the fields' that we brought. We convinced the migration actors to give up this illegal activity. The state took all dispositions to stop human trafficking. The involved people agreed to give up and take on other, more flexible economic activities."

W/S City of Adadez

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