Niger law cut smuggling, but EU alternatives insufficient – Xchange report

Credit: Xchange Foundation

The implementation of Niger’s Law 36 in 2015, cut off smuggler’s livelihoods overnight, but the EU’s alternatives, were insufficient and deceitful.

That’s the shared sentiment of Ex-Passeurs and Coxeurs (smugglers) from Agadez, Niger, who were interviewed by the migration research outfit, for their latest report on the key migration hub.

When asked, they expressed their frustration and anger at the EU’s Reconversion Plan failure to deliver direct funds and support to help them steer away from the activities which were being criminalized by the Nigerien government’s crackdown.

They explained that had the law been implemented gradually with solutions provided in equal measure, this could have ‘cushioned the blow’ and impact to the many who relied on the industry for an income and within the wider Agadez economy.

The local Sultan of Agadez agreed with the viewpoint telling, ‘The problem is like: this business was giving opportunities to 6,000 people, close to 6,000 people. The day after all these people didn’t have a job, the money from European community was barely enough to support 400 people converted to regular life.’

Sultan’s Palace
Credit: Xchange Foundation

Stick to what you know, you make more that way

Equated with this, is the knowledge gathered that a smuggler could made in excess of 1 million CFA, around €1,505 per month from working in the migration trade. What legal alternatives might be on the table, would not meet the same threshold.

One of the former smugglers also told the team that the, ‘EU had made false promises with regards funds provided for helping those in the smuggling industry leave and find alternatives.’. Instead, he explained that the money, ‘remains in the hands of those to whom it was not earmarked for, often the central authorities in charge of its distribution.’

‘No job! There’s nothing. The funds that they have disbursed, were not given directly to [us]. They gave the money to other people, to others, to do other things. Not to the passeurs. The authority is supposed to distribute them. But the money never arrives to them.’, the smuggler explained.

With smuggling still a viable yet criminalized avenue of employment, smugglers were more likely to stick to what they knew to avoid the uncertainty and vagueness of the alternatives.

In this situation, suggests the frustration among the former smugglers could originate from a lack of clarity over what the EU’s Reconversion plan actually was and how it was managed. This plan was plagued with its own issues.

Poor implementation, poor funding and looming doubts

According to a report by the Netherlands Institute of International Relations, entitled, ‘Why the EU should help former CRU Policy Brief smugglers get a job; An integrated approach for Agadez (and beyond)’, the Reconversion Plan was mired by funding issues, doubts over the capacity of the Agadez authorities and wider skepticism for the region actually changing.

In 2016, the European Union formed the Reconversion Plan within its wider €2 billion European Union Emergency Trust Fund to deal with Mediterranean migration. The Plan would be supported by over  the €139.9 million of Niger focused funding and would provide a small amount of funding to former smugglers in order to begin seeking an alternative livelihood away from the migration industry.

The fund was driven by the local Agadez authorities seeing the impact and tension that the previous year’s criminalization and arrest of 282 smugglers and official confiscation of 169 pick-up trucks, had had on the local population.

The Plan’s implementation is argued to have been unsuccessful because those overseeing the applications for funding were doubtful of their validity as well as of the capacity of the Agadez economy to adapt to the new economic future. They also felt that the funds on offer were too low to incentivize a former smuggler to become legitimate.  It is reported that this amounted to $2,700 (€2390) for individuals and $7,200 (€6373) for group projects.

Fifteen municipalities in Agadez drew up a combined list of over 6,000 former individuals connected with the smuggling industry to start sponsoring. This was estimated by the Agadez Regional Council to cost over €500 million, considerably higher than the initial funding allocation.

The situation is understood to have worsened when it was found that funding would not stretch to accommodate the number of selected projects. It is understood that of the first 218 projects selected from more than 1,800 applications made, funding could only support 98. Added to the discontent from those who were unlucky, there were criticisms that the process had included too many of the ‘wrong type’.

The Dutch Think-tank says instead that the EU should’ve considered a Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) approach, coupled with securitisation and programmes for economic integration and development.