Migrant Surge Unfounded After Niger Junta Lifts Ban, Easing European Concerns

Niger’s military leaders overturned a European Union-backed law that criminalized people who aided migrants, leading to a sharp increase in migrant flows. Over 128,790 migrants were observed leaving Niger in March, 68% more than in March 2023, according to Reuters calculations based on the most recent data from the International Organisation for Migration (IOM). The price charged by people smugglers to cross the desert from Niger to Libya has fallen to around $170 per person from $500 when the law was in place.

The reversal of the law triggered alarm in Europe, with some far-right parties predicting an influx of illegal migrants. However, nine migration experts and representatives of migration-focused organizations painted a more cautious picture, noting that data on migrants reaching Europe via the Mediterranean does not show an increase, although they say those numbers could increase in the future.

The IOM points to historical trends showing that 80% of African migrants tend to stay in Africa, part of a centuries-old tradition of free movement of economic migrants. Libya and Tunisia have also intensified efforts to turn back or detain migrants seeking to cross the Mediterranean after receiving EU money to curb migration.

The impact of the 2015 law on migration via Niger was dramatic, with observed outgoing migrant flows falling 79% between 2016 and 2017, according to U.N. data. The number of migrants detected on the central Mediterranean route fell to 24,800 in 2018, more than 86% lower than a record 181,459 in 2016, when most had left from Libya.

After the Niger junta seized power in a July 2023 coup, it quickly overturned the deal struck with the EU. The law had been deeply unpopular in northern Niger, where people who hosted, fed, and transported the migrants saw incomes dry up overnight.

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