- Title: Nigerâ€™s migrant smuggling hub empties after EU crackdown.
- Date: 31st January 2017
- Summary: TOURAYATE, AGADEZ REGION, NIGER (FILE) (REUTERS) CARS LOADED WITH MIGRANTS GOING TO LIBYA VARIOUS OF MIGRANTS SITTING ON CARS AT NIGHT
- Embargoed: 14th February 2017 10:55
- Keywords: Migration Migrants Agadez hub EU Europe Desert IOM Mahamadou Issoufou
- Location: AGADEZ, NIGER/ BRUSSELS, BELGIUM
- City: AGADEZ, NIGER/ BRUSSELS, BELGIUM
- Country: Niger
- Topics: Asylum/Immigration/Refugees,Government/Politics
- Reuters ID: LVA00461EUZBR
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text: In a dirt-floored room in the town of Agadez in Niger, scattered paper and a cold pile of ashes are all that remain of what was once a teeming stopover for migrants preparing the fraught journey across the Saharan Desert and onwards to Europe.
This empty room with messages like "remember me" etched on the clay walls, housed hundreds of migrants at a time.
Boubacar Lu was one of them.
"This ghetto was one of the biggest ghettos in Agadez. It could shelter between 50 and 100 people. The number of people that used to live here was around 500 people, and every Monday, trucks would come and pick people up and there would be at least 200 people left. Unfortunately, today things have changed, measures were taken and things have changed. Everyone has left, and everyone who used to manage these ghettos has also left," said Lu.
Less than a year ago, Agadez boomed. It was a hub for smuggling networks that profited off hundreds of desperate migrants. But that was before the European Union, working with Niger's government, bankrolled a crackdown on the trade.
Representatives at the International Organization for Migration (IOM), which monitors migrant flows at two points in the Agadez region says numbers have fallen dramatically.
"We don't have the exact numbers for Agadez. We have monitoring spots in the region, in Seguedine and Arlit, where we have been monitoring the migrant route and from that point of view, we can say that the numbers have decreased since the month of August. Whereas before we used to see large numbers going through every week, now the number is between zero and a dozen. But I would like to emphasise that it does not mean that there are no migrants in Niger just because we are on the ground only in those two areas," said said Marina Schramm, deputy chief of mission for IOM in Agadez.
Schramm also noted that numbers normally fall in the winter, but not by so much.
The European Union said that only 1,500 migrants crossed Niger in November, down from 70,000 in May, crediting the change to a new partnership strategy it launched with Niger last year.
Agadez has been the focus of anti-smuggling efforts, and the EU began training security forces there in April.
By November authorities had seized 95 vehicles and arrested 102 smugglers as well as nine police officers for migration-linked corruption.
In late 2015, the EU established a fund with 1.88 billion euros ($2.01 billion) aimed at addressing migration originating across West Africa's arid Sahel and Lake Chad regions, the Horn of Africa as well as North Africa.
Last year it added another 500 million euros to the fund and established partnerships with priority countries Niger, Ethiopia, Senegal, Mali, and Nigeria, financing a range of programmes from security and border management to job creation.
But despite those initial results, it's still too early to judge the strategy a success.
Smuggling is likely still happening in Agadez but has become more clandestine, analysts say.
Tightening security often allows smugglers to charge a premium and can push migrants to take riskier routes.
"We fear that there are more migrants who are dying in the desert, but I think that alone will not discourage them from trusting smugglers or making these dangerous journeys. What we need to reinforce are the messages that the migrants are sharing, those who come back from Libya or the desert and who have suffered at the hands of the smugglers. Those are the strongest messages and the most credible ones and they also get to hear it directly from the people who went through it rather than reports," said Schramm.
The EU acknowledged in December that the reduced traffic in Niger had not yet led to fewer arrivals in Europe. Over 181,000 migrants took the North Africa to Italy route in 2016, more than in any other year on record, though many likely arrived in Libya before the crackdown in Niger began.
Economic development programmes funded by the EU to alleviate the poverty that drives migrants to leave home in the first place could take years to show results.
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