The Sahel

The Sahel region, often cited as the poorest in the world, is an arid zone with porous borders conditioned by its climate. Nestled between the Sahara desert in the north and savannah in the south, it covers the same surface as the countries comprising the European Union. It stretches across Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad over an area of 5,400 km from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea. 

These five countries total 73 million inhabitants, with two thirds under the age of 24. As a whole, the region is subject to a combination of destabilizing shocks, both internal and external. 

In recent years, the Sahel has become one of the most important hubs for transnational organized crime, corruption, and trafficking of all kinds. Money laundering - often carried out through investments in real estate and money transfers abroad - further strengthens the power of criminal groups at the expense of governmental authorities. 

Human trafficking and migrant smuggling represent major challenges not only in the Sahel, but also for other transit and destination countries located around the Mediterranean Sea. Human rights violations, development impediments and weakened governmental capacity are some of the consequences of these destabilizing criminal activities. 

Prison overcrowding rates in the Sahel are among the highest in the world, exceeding 230% in some countries, according to UNODC estimates. Detention conditions raise a number of security and human rights concerns, including regarding prisoners' potential radicalization to violence. 

Terrorism, illicit trafficking in drugs, firearms and persons, organized crime and corruption are both recurrent and interrelated phenomena jeopardizing peace and security in the region. Threats posed by foreign terrorist fighters returning from Syria and Iraq further complicate these dynamics, representing new and evolving challenges for Sahel countries' authorities.

Criminal networks have stepped up their trans-border operations and expanded their illicit business activities throughout the region. Improving coordination and cooperation between law enforcement agencies and judicial authorities both within and among individual States is essential to ensure an integrated approach in the fight against illicit trafficking and organized crime.