19th Mar 2018

Expert teams in Niger to steer migrants home

  • Road to Agadez in northern Niger, a migrant smuggling hub (Photo: Joris-Jan van den Boom)

Italy is spearheading a pilot project in Niger to convince migrants en route to Europe to stop their journey.

Roaming teams of experts will be dispatched along known migratory routes in Niger to intercept them before they reach the north African coast and Europe.

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The International Organisation of Migration (IOM), which is involved, says the pilot is set for launch sometime over summer.

“We are working with the Italians and with the European Commission on what we call migrant resource and referral mechanisms,” Eugenio Ambrosi, IOM’s Brussels’ office regional director, said on Monday (13 April).

Details on budget and number of teams still need to be worked out with Niger’s government, but Ambrosi said a successful pilot could entail expanding the project to other countries, such as Tunisia.

Niger is recognised as a major cross-road for West and Central African migrants moving toward Libya, where they set off in boats along the coastline between Tripoli and the Tunisian border.

Although political asylum claims from these countries are typically rejected in Europe, many still meet up with Libyan smugglers in Agadez, a large market town in northern Niger.

Teams, including authorities from Niger, are to be dispatched in the hope of intercepting them before they move further north.

Only emergency cases like the severely ill, unaccompanied minors, or victims of human trafficking would be taken to a facility for temporary monitoring, said Ambrosi.

All others would be allowed to continue their journey should they choose.

“We don’t want to create any structure that would attract more people,” said Ambrosi.

He noted the basic idea is to provide them with an “alternative to continuing the trip north.”

This includes possibly allowing them either to settle in the country of transit or a return ticket back home.

Ambrosi said those that are returned home would be accompanied by community level development initiatives to help with their reintegration.

“So the idea we are working on is to try and ease some pressure by tackling the groups that are not asylum seekers,” he said.

Legitimate asylum seekers are to be referred to the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR).

The European Commission, for its part, says the pilot is in the planning stages and so cannot give specific details.

But commission spokesperson Natasha Bertaud said the objective of such a "pilot project would be to create first reception centres in Niger – an important transit country – in order to facilitate the screening and voluntary return operations of migrants as well as the identification of persons in need of protection."

The Brussels-based executive in late March announced it would set aside an additional €1.8 billion to fund programmes on asylum, migration, integration and security over the next 10 years.

The addition brings the total to around €7 billion. Most of it will be channeled through member states.

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