The European Union (EU) is offering $635 million to Niger to block the passage of Europe bound migrants through its territory. According to the Belfast Telegraph, the European Commission announced the offer at a recent gathering of Europe’s leaders at the EU summit in Brussels, Belgium. EU officials say the offer is expected to address the root causes of poverty, while fighting human smuggling and boosting border controls.
The ancient town of Agadez in Niger is a major transit route for migrants and human smugglers from West Africa aiming to reach Europe. Many illegal migrants from the region first find their way to Niger, before marching across the Sahara Desert to the coast of Libya, from where they cram themselves into overcrowded sea vessels and rubber dinghies to cross the Mediterranean Sea into Europe.
Niger President Mahamadou Issoufou said, “It’s unbearable, these dramas happening in the desert and at sea, and Niger is ready to do its part to bring this suffering to an end.”
The EU says Niger has recorded some measurable success in its efforts to cut the number of illegal migrants using its territory as a transit route. According to reports, numbers have fallen significantly within the past 6 months, from more than 70,000 in May to a little more than 1,500 people in November.
Due to poverty, lack of opportunities, and political strife, many young Africans continue to flee their home countries to pursue dreams of starting a life in Europe.
According to the United Nation’s refugee agency, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), more than 3,000 migrants have either been confirmed dead or missing while attempting to cross the Mediterranean into Europe in 2016.
Official figures put the number of migrants who have arrived in Italy from the Mediterranean crossing at more than 93,000 this year. The IOM says slightly fewer migrants arrived on Italian shores in the first six months of 2016 compared with the same period last year, noting that more than 67,000 migrants arrived in Italy between January 1st and July 3rd.
The EU says that authorities in Niger have already helped repatriate more than 4,000 African migrants to their home countries. But critics have expressed worries that the new move does not take into consideration the plight of migrants who may be fleeing life threatening situations like strife, persecution, or discrimination.