Niger becomes the first Sahel country to legislate against migrant smuggling

In October 2013, at least 92 Nigerien migrants were left to die of thirst and hunger in the desert after being abandoned by their smuggler. In the past years, there has been a significant increase in the number of people trying to reach Europe as a result of conflict or lack of opportunity in their country of origin. In a bid to circumvent migration regulations, irregular migrants end up using highly expensive and sophisticated smuggling networks. While the people in charge of these networks enjoy low risks of detection and prosecution, desperate migrants are extremely vulnerable to life threatening and exploitative conditions.

As a response to rising security and humanitarian concerns in the region, the Nigerien government drafted a law against migrant smuggling with technical and financial assistance from UNODC. After the parliament adopted the law on 11 May 2015, the Minister of Justice of Niger and government spokesman, Marou Amadou, praised the 82 deputies for unanimously approving the law. Mr. Amadou emphasized the need for the country to protect its borders as "transnational organized crime spreads terror in [the] country".

The new law seeks to punish human rights violations suffered by smuggled migrants, in view of reducing the scale of this crime in the country. The shared border with Libya makes Niger an ideal country of transit for migrants attempting to reach European coasts. UNODC estimates that several thousands of migrants pass through the Niger desert town of Agadez every week. Overall, the smuggling networks are believed to make hundreds of millions of dollars of profit every year.

In the past Niger had ratified the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (UNTOC) and adopted two of its three associated Protocols. With the help of UNODC, the Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air was transposed in the country's legal framework. By doing so, Niger sets precedence as the first country in the region to pass legislation that specifically targets the smuggling of migrants.

As part of the United Nations Integrated Strategy for the Sahel (UNISS), UNODC enhances the capacities of governments to effectively identify and combat smuggling of migrants. UNODC efforts include targeting criminals, protecting smuggled migrants and fostering cooperation between affected states through the Smuggling of Migrants Protocol.

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