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Niger: Europe’s new ‘frontier’ destroying Africa’s migrant transit hub16:40

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

August 6, 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.

Niger: Europe’s new ‘frontier’ destroying Africa’s migrant transit hub16:40
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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.

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