Despite not traditionally being a priority, the issue of migration continues to carry ever more political weight in Niger, mainly due to European interests in curbing transit migrants moving northwards, but also because of increased forced displacement in the country.
European migration interests are overriding national interests, to the detriment of local ownership and with adverse effects on local economies, security, and free movement within the boundaries of the Economic Community of West African States.
In stark contrast to the attention given to anti-smuggling measures is the worsening displacement situation in the country, stemming from conflict in the Sahelian neighborhood in the south and from Libya. The consequence is the world’s poorest country hosting a growing population of displaced persons in dire conditions.
Fairer responsibility and burden sharing between the EU and Niger, a sustainable regional policy, and more safe and legal pathways are key to changing this situation.
The Nigerien state must balance the need for state building, development aid, and stability with domestic legitimacy, which can be dominated by European concerns about migration. It has thus far claimed ownership of the irregular migration agenda while simultaneously using it to strengthen its regime.