Harare — The military administration of Niger repealed anti-migration legislation that helped in lowering the number of West Africans travelling to Europe, but was despised by residents of the desert whose businesses depended on the traffic, BBC reports.
The 2015 law was abolished on November 25, and proclaimed on Monday evening on state television by the Niger administration, which took over in a coup in July. The new decree also states that convictions rendered under the 2015 law "shall be erased".
The law, which made it illegal to transport migrants through Niger, was passed in May 2015 as the number of people travelling across the Mediterranean from Africa reached record highs, creating a political and humanitarian crisis in Europe where governments came under pressure to stop the influx.
The government is trying to garner support at home, particularly in the northern desert towns that had profited most from migration, and is re-evaluating its connections with previous Western partners who denounced the coup.
The law caused a sharp decline in the number of migrants passing through Niger, a major transit nation on the southern edge of the Sahara Desert, but the towns and villages that had provided food and shelter to migrants as well as sold fuel and auto parts to traffickers suffered greatly as a result of the change. In exchange, the European Union established the Trust Fund for Africa in 2015 with a 5 billion euro ($5,5 billion) goal of eliminating the underlying reasons of migration, but many believed this was insufficient. In locations like the historic city of Agadez, a well-known entry point to the Sahara, unemployment skyrocketed. Numerous cars used to transport migrants have been seized, and dozens of people involved in illegal movement networks have been detained and imprisoned.
However, migrants chose new, riskier routes through the desert that lack landmarks or water sources, making it impossible for them to be rescued in the event of emergency. Some in Agadez, called Europe's border guard and subsequently Africa's centre of smuggling, are pleased with the most recent development.
There are now concerns that human traffickers may use the law's repeal as a justification to force migrants into neighboring countries like Libya or Algeria in order to be transported to Europe.