Issak Abdou strides across his barracks yard like a used car dealer at a clearance sale. White Toyota pickups are parked in long lines on the Agadez army base at the southern edge of the Sahara. Abdou paces between the rows, his hands behind his back, followed closely by his adjutant, who is cradling a Kalashnikov. ‘This one’s seven million francs,’ Abdou says, nodding towards a pickup. ‘That one’s 10 million.’[1]

This would be equivalent to almost $17,000, but the pickup is not for sale. Abdou’s barracks yard is a storage for evidence. Until recently, each of these vehicles was shuttling from Agadez in Niger to Libya, each truck bed filled with Nigerian, Senegalese, Cameroonian or Gambian nationals traveling 950 mi – three days’ drive if everything went smoothly. Now, in November 2017, the desert dust buries the abandoned belongings of the former passengers like relics of a bygone civilization: old shoes, empty pill packets, water canisters decorated with bears for the children. And a Quran. A Quran? Abdou knocks off the dust and takes it with him. The Word of God must not lie in the dirt.

Fog and sand blend into a dusty grey haze. By Sahara standards it is cool this morning. To the side of the yard, a soldier in a tank top hoses off an armored vehicle like an animal keeper rinsing a dirty elephant. A few soldiers load their scout car with ammunition belts before setting off to patrol the desert.

Abdou became commander three years ago. Soon afterwards, the National Assembly of Niger passed Law No. 2015-36 against unlawful trafficking of migrants. Since then, Issak Abdou has had to arrest the drivers who take people across the desert. Their vehicles are impounded, 107 by now. Almost as many drivers are sitting in the prisons of the desert cities of Agadez and Bilma. Most of them are awaiting trial and could face up to 30 years in prison. ‘What they did used to be legal,’ says Abdou. ‘Now it’s considered human trafficking. Worse than dealing drugs or guns.’[2]

People smuggling? Human trafficking? The pickup drivers were actually running nothing more than a taxi service from Agadez through the Sahara. Since flights are expensive, Africans prefer to travel by bus, or in the taxi vans that are common on the continent. Until recently, the millennia-old city of Agadez was a tourist attraction. Much of the local population earned an income from international visitors, especially in the transportation sector. But since Islamist militias have become active in the Sahara, fewer tourists visit. Increasingly, local taxi and bus drivers transport migrants to make money. To the EU, however, they are smugglers. As stated in a 2015 Frontex report: ‘Human traffickers in Agadez see themselves as service providers. Attempts to combat this growing industry could trigger local protests.’[3]

This is how the desert state became Europe’s main partner in the fight against irregular migration in Africa, although the EU hardly cared about Niger until then. Screens at the Frontex headquarters in Warsaw show high-resolution satellite images. The EU border agency traces tire tracks in the sand of the central Sahara, over 2,500 mi to the south. From Agadez, trucks, buses or desert-proof pickups loaded with goods and migrants must travel thousands of miles through the desert to reach the Libyan border. Frontex officials in Warsaw analyze onscreen images of drivers stopping to fill up containers at the few water points on this route. A 2016 Frontex report states: ‘It was observed that smugglers tend to move between Agadez and the Libyan border on Mondays, when the weekly military convoys usually leave to provide supplies to bases in northern Niger. The presence of the military offers additional protection to the smugglers.’[4]

The confiscated trucks are testament to what people go through to get closer to Europe. The back of a Toyota Hilux Single Cab, Series 7, the model used by almost all ‘smugglers’ here, is 7.6ft long and 5ft wide, slightly larger than a double bed. In this space, up to 25 people would ride through the desert. Abdou picks up a stick lying in the sand. He puts it between his legs, bends his knees slightly and grips the wood with both hands. ‘That’s how they held on. No one could stand it otherwise,’ he says.[5]

The closer migrants get to Europe, the more crime-ridden, expensive and dangerous the journey becomes. Starting out, they can board buses for little money; in the end they pay a fortune for a life-threatening boat trip. Agadez is the turning point. Until here, the law is on their side. Beyond this place they can rely on nothing.

The village of Tourayet, population 100, lies a few hours by car east of Agadez. Along the way, the landscape varies between gravel, sand and bushland. A group of Touareg waters its camels at the single village well. Now and then, the outlines of trucks appear on the dusty horizon. They lumber along the dirt road, ludicrously overloaded with hundreds of bundles of cheap Libyan imports.

At the entrance to Tourayet, a limp rope crosses the road. Traders in a few huts sell firewood and grilled goat. This village is one of the many checkpoints on the route through the Sahara. Along the way there are some wells, small settlements and traffic, so accidents do not go unnoticed.

National Guardsman Hamdou stands next to his jeep chewing on a twig of miswak wood and watching a red truck roll up. About 30 men are sitting in the cargo area. They wear loose robes; turbans cover their heads and their faces. The driver gets out, a blue folder in his hand. The guardsmen slowly leaf through it, then pull the rope aside. The truck moves on.

‘They’re Nigeriens. They want to go to a mine nearby to look for gold,’ says Hamdou. ‘Nigeriens and Libyans. Nobody else can pass here anymore.’[6]

The rope controlled by the guardsmen is the barrier blocking the somewhat safe path through the desert for many. ‘Every Monday when the convoys left Agadez, 200 cars came through here,’ says Hamdou. According to a census by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), an average of 6,300 people per week left Agadez for Libya and Algeria in 2016. Now just a lonely donkey plods over the gravel; its legs are hobbled so that it can only take small steps. ‘These days, nobody comes anymore,’ says Hamdou. ‘The drivers are going to jail.’[7]

Hamdou’s uniform bears the badge of the G5 Sahel Joint Force, the new multinational squad against terrorism, drug smuggling and human trafficking in the Sahel. The EU is giving more than €100[8] million for the desert army. Hamdou’s unit last found a group of migrants abandoned in the desert four months earlier. 60 people, three bodies. ‘That also used to happen before the ban,’ he says. But now the traffickers drive straight through the desert instead of taking the road. ‘Sometimes they get lost, sometimes there are accidents and sometimes they just leave people behind when they think we’re following them.’[9]

Hussein Chani is no longer driving through the desert. On a hot morning, the Tuareg man stands in an empty courtyard on the outskirts of Agadez. He wears jeans and sunglasses, his cell phone in his shirt pocket. The clay walls are too high for anyone to see inside, but the entire neighborhood knows what this house was: ‘My ghetto,’ says Chani. That was what everyone called the hostels in Agadez where the migrants slept before setting off through the desert. Chani knows his way around there, so he became a trafficker.[10]

He and three friends rented this house, now eerily empty, plus three Toyotas from Libyan businessmen. Every month, they brought 400 to 500 people through the desert, he says. He married a second wife and could have afforded a third, he says, had the business kept going as it was.

‘This is where they slept,’ Chani says, pointing to the sand floor. His customers were crowded together on woven mats; they sat in the blazing sun for days, waiting for their turn to set out. A small house stands in the middle of the courtyard. Families were allowed to sleep in the room on the left, women traveling alone on the right. Reminders of them are still scattered here: plastic cups, sheepskins, paper scraps with phone numbers, plastic slippers, pill packets.

‘Anyone who arrived and had no money could just wait here for someone to send it,’ Chani claims. He was generous and let the migrants pay later, he says. The waiting travelers all cooked together: rice on the fire in the courtyard. Where they washed and relieved themselves is anyone’s guess.[11]

Chani ran the hostel most of the time. ‘Ghetto boss,’ Frontex calls this activity in a recent report on the Agadez human trafficking business.[12] Chani also drove sometimes: 75 times, he estimates, from 2009 until 2016, when everything suddenly ended. ‘It took three days to prepare each trip.’ Chani bought wood, water and gas, three 60-liter canisters per pickup truck.[13]

They took 28 people on every truck for 80,000 francs (€120) per passenger, Chani claims, except when people from the same country joined for a group discount.

They drove all day until dusk, despite the heat. ‘At night there are too many bandits. We slept at 10pm, and at 4am we set off again.’ On the evening of the third day they reached Sabha in Libya. ‘Nothing ever went wrong,’ he says. ‘My partners called me from every station.’ Chani and his partners each made around $2,000 at the end of the month, he says.

There were dozens of hostels like this in Agadez, all of them closed now. Chani’s partners went to prison and their trucks are parked on Commander Abdou‘s military compound. He has nothing left, Chani says. ‘I look for work every day.’[14]

The law prohibiting Chani’s business is passed in May 2015,[15] but not enforced right away. In June 2016, Niger’s President Mahamadou Issoufou travels to Berlin; in October 2016, German Chancellor Angela Merkel comes to his country. She stays only five hours but makes her intentions clear: ‘We will work together more closely on three new priorities,’ says Merkel. ‘The first of these priorities is the fight against illegal migration.’[16] Merkel promises €27 million in aid,[17] but President Issoufou knows there is a lot more to be made. He demands €1 billion – and ensures that Merkel gets what she wants: the consistent enforcement of Law No. 2015-36.

The law was passed under pressure from the EU, says Hassane Boukar of the Alternative Citizens’ Space in Niger (AECN; Alternative Espaces Citoyens du Niger). Furthermore, the Nigerien government had ‘made these bizarre decisions without any dialogue with civil society.’[18]

This paid off for Issoufou: EU Development Commissioner Neven Mimica meets Niger’s Finance Minister Hassoumi Massoudou in Paris in December 2017. Mimica promises Massoudou €1 billion in development aid for the period from 2017 to 2020.[19] The annual share of this is more than 11 percent of Niger’s national budget, and does not even include bilateral aid to Niger from Italy, France and Germany. On just one visit to Niamey in July 2017, German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen (CDU) presented 100 flatbed trucks, 115 motorcycles and 55 satellite telephones to the police and the army.[20] Germany also has three officials and two policemen involved in the EUCAP-Sahel mission in Niger, which views traffickers primarily as members of organized crime and Islamist terrorist groups, and trains the Nigerien authorities to fight them.[21]

‘Drivers were turned into human traffickers and hotel keepers into criminals,’[22] says Ibrahim Manzo Diallo, editor-in-chief of Radio Sahara in Agadez. His office is next to the studio; the transmitter mast towers above the courtyard, editors pass along the small corridor. A map on the wall shows which areas of the desert can receive the signal. Radio Sahara also broadcasts an hourly Hausa language program from the German international broadcaster Deutsche Welle. Radio is the only mass medium in large parts of the country.

‘The EU got Niger to block the way through the Sahara,’ says Diallo. He considers this illegal: ‘The migrants are citizens of the West African community,’ he says. ‘They have the right to move freely here. Instead, they are treated like criminals, detained and put in camps.’[23]

In December 2017, the IOM estimated that 5,700 migrants a month traveled from Niger to Libya that year, about one-fifth of the previous year’s figure. ‘The government says there have been 31 deaths so far this year. We believe there were actually hundreds.’ In 2017, his station received four reports of corpses from local correspondents in the desert.[24]

Diallo has the photos on his laptop: mummified bodies, emaciated, thirsty, dried out, stiff. Some lie on the ground beside the vehicles, others still inside, their limbs folded. Some of the dead were children. Some have only their arms still sticking out of the sand.

‘But most of the bodies are never found.’ He finds the problem is that the new drivers lack routine. ‘In the ghettos, people always knew exactly who was going where and when. Now everything runs undercover, in secret. The drivers take other routes that are longer and dangerous. They use GPS, but they don’t know their way around because they’re not from here.’ Nobody knows the routes they take. ‘The desert is bigger than the Mediterranean. Some still don’t reach Libya after a month or two.’ Nobody can survive this long. ‘If Europe doesn’t want any more migrants, why doesn’t it stop them at its own borders?’[25]

In October 2016, the Regional Council of Agadez presented a study showing the new policy’s impact on the region. They estimated that every migrant had spent around $330 in the city on accommodation, food, provisions, exit taxes and the desert trip. By IOM estimates, 330,000 people traveled through Agadez in 2016. According to the regional council, the new law would result in a loss of over $100 million per year.[26]

Hence, the new policy is so unpopular in Agadez that Niger’s president Issoufo had to appoint an outsider as regional governor. Sadou Soloke comes from the West of Niger. His headquarters are within view of the offices of the United Nations, the IOM and the German Corporation for International Cooperation (GIZ). One evening he sits in in his office, watched over by the national guard, wearing the traditional flowing white robe known as babban riga and a red felt cap. He states: ‘We aren’t doing this just because the Europeans say so, as many people claim.’[27]

Fighting the traffickers is the right thing to do, says Soloke, ‘because we believe they are inhuman and endanger our youth.’ Traffickers manipulated young people into taking fatal risks. ‘It’s a dishonorable business. How can we tolerate it?’ Soloke does not say why the authorities only awoke to this ‘moral obligation’ after the EU began shelling out millions to fulfill it.[28]

He admits that the law cost many people in Agadez their source of income. ‘We were aware of this,’ says Soloke. ‘They need to find completely new activities. We’re working on it,’ he states. ‘But the aid is coming slowly.’ Former traffickers receive up to $1,700 to establish a new livelihood. So far, 3,000 of them have applied. The money comes from the EU, which is financing a whole series of other projects in Agadez to compensate for the destroyed businesses.[29]

He rejects the accusation of violating West Africa’s free travel regime. ‘Of course people are free to travel,’ says Soloke. ‘Just not if they want to go to Libya.’ Moreover, the authorities were not targeting migrants. ‘We don’t touch them. We only punish the traffickers.’ This made an impact: ‘Numbers have declined dramatically.’ The migrants still being picked up today are sent to an open camp in Agadez run by the UN migration agency IOM, which then organizes their trips back home.

He was aware that the new routes were more dangerous: ‘We’re watching this. And then we will close off these routes too. They always find other ways, so we can’t stop working.’[30]

On Thursday, 1 June 2017, Lawal Taher, head of the Red Cross in northern Niger’s Bilma region, made a sad announcement. The day before, a truck had broken down on the way from Agadez to Dirkou in the middle of the Sahara. Only six people managed to walk to the nearest water source. Two of the survivors then led rescuers to the scene of the accident, where 44 passengers’ bodies were found, including 17 women and six children. The victims were migrants from the West African states of Ghana and Nigeria. That same day, the Nigerien army rescued 40 people abandoned by traffickers in the Sahara a little further east. Just weeks earlier, eight migrants, five of them children, had died of thirst in the Nigerien desert on their way to Algeria.[31]

Vincent Cochetel, the UN refugee agency’s (UNHCR) Special Envoy for the Sahel region, says in February 2018 that more people probably die in the Sahara than drown in the Mediterranean.[32] Albert Chaibou, a journalist from Niger and the founder of a migrant emergency hotline, laments: ‘By serving Europe, our country has degenerated into a cemetery.’[33]

Niger is a member of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), a union of 15 states at present. The founders of ECOWAS wanted freedom of movement to overcome the colonial borders. Visa-free stays of 90 days within the member states have been possible since 2005. The confederation resembles the EU: ‘In my opinion, your greatest achievements include the Common External Tariff, freedom of movement and freedom of establishment,’ praised German Federal President Joachim Gauck during a visit to Nigeria in February 2016.[34] ‘The history of your family of nations sounds somewhat familiar to us in Europe,’ said Gauck. ‘What Europeans and West Africans also have in common is the experience that integration is always a gradual process.’ Or not – because Europe’s policies undermine freedom of movement, the core element of the Schengen Area, in West Africa.

‘Just a few years ago, all the borders here were open,’ says Alassane Dicko of the NGO Afrique-Europe-Interact (AEI).[35] Today there are special border posts all along Mali’s borders to Senegal and Mauritania, Ghana’s borders to Burkina Faso, Togo’s to Burkina Faso and Burkina Faso’s to Niger. These new border posts no longer just collect bribes as usual; they bear the logo of the IOM, which cooperates with the EU. Some were constructed by the German Corporation for International Cooperation (GIZ), others equipped by the IOM with EU money. ‘The border guards there ask people, “Where are you going? Why do you want to go there?” And if you don’t have a good answer, it ends right there,’ says Dicko. For travelers suspected of wanting to get to Europe, the journey is over.

The IOM points out that it was working with the ministries of the interior and defense on ‘effective management of cross-border flows’. To this end, it was ‘strengthening institutional capacity’, for example, through the ‘construction of border posts, training of immigration officers and provision of border control equipment’.[36]

‘We have the tradition of free movement here in the region,’ says Sanoh N’Faly, ECOWAS Director of Free Movement and Migration. ‘Reinforcing borders to prevent young people from migrating is not a rational solution. It’s an attempt to criminalize migration. If the borders are monitored in one place, they find another possibility somewhere else. It just gets more dangerous, and they die. That’s the tragedy.’[37]

About 377 million[38] people now live in the ECOWAS region and around six million[39] are considered migrants from ECOWAS member states. Most migrate within the region; the migration corridor between Côte d’Ivoire and Burkina Faso is the busiest in Africa. Migration here is not a police and security issue, but a traditional social and economic practice. Nevertheless, since the fall of the Libyan dictator Gaddafi, ECOWAS has had to face fighters and weapons entering from Libya, enabling Islamist groups to advance in Mali and Nigeria. This has made migration a security issue.

‘Border management is not only restrictive,’ says Ralph Genetzke from the Brussels office of the think tank International Centre for Migration and Policy Development (ICMPD). ‘It is also important for combatting corruption, for customs and security in the Sahel. This plays very strongly into the area of governance. Spending development aid on border management is the right thing to do.’[40]

In fact, many African governments consider more border controls necessary against terrorism. Better border management in Africa was one of the EU’s major goals at the 2015 Valletta Summit.

West Africa’s border controls are being intensified and upgraded – for example with the EU-funded West Africa Information System (WAPIS) database, into which West African authorities feed all collected fingerprints and match them with Interpol. The consequences are seen and felt in the Gao region in northeastern Mali, which borders on Niger, the major trans-Saharan transit country.

Vienna-based publicist, filmmaker and activist Hans-Georg Eberl[41] visited the region several times between October 2016 and March 2017. The following observations are based on his research.

Mutiple travelers reported being rejected at the Yassan border crossing and sent back to the Malian side by the ‘Service de Migration’, the immigration department of the Nigerian police. According to Eberl’s research, this affected Malian citizens on one hand and, to a greater extent, people from other West African countries. To enter Niger, Malian travelers must provide ID cards valid for at least three more months and a contact person, preferably in the capital of Niamey. This person must be called immediately and then contact the border post from a police station to confirm that the person waiting at the border is actually expected. [42]

‘Along with Agadez in Niger, Gao is one of the central hubs for people from various West African countries heading north,’ says Éric Alain Kamden, who has been on the ground for the Catholic NGO Caritas since 2009. This was already true before the war started in 2012. By now, according to IOM statistics, about 150 migrants pass through Gao per day, many of whom travel on to Niger.[43]

Travelers from the south of Mali who come with only an ID card, regardless of how long it is still valid, may only pass if they have a contact on the Nigerian side. For persons from other West African states, such as Ghana, Sierra Leone, Côte d’Ivoire, Gambia, Senegal and Guinea who are believed to be on their way to the Mediterranean, Eberl quotes a border officer in Yassan as saying that there are instructions not to let them pass at all.[44]

There are several documented cases from 2016 of Senegalese travelers who were rejected even though they carried all the necessary documents: an ECOWAS passport, an ID card and a vaccination passport. In July, for example, four young people from Mali, Togo, Senegal and Burkina Faso who wanted to cross the border to set up Orange cellular towers for a Nigerien employer were stopped. Although they carried their tools with them and it was obvious that they were on the job, they were initially turned away at the border and could only travel on when Caritas employee Kamden vouched for them.[45] Kamden was even threatened with losing his visa for Niger if the four were to be picked up in Agadez traveling further north, Eberl reports.

Kamden knows such cases from his daily work with travelers stranded in Gao after being rejected at the border or returning from the desert. He is certain that the repressive practices at the Mali-Niger border are a direct outcome of the Valletta Process, especially since the Nigerien border guards only started being stricter around 2015.

Until then, says Kamden, it was quite normal to cross the border between Mali and Niger, even without valid papers. Persons who could not show a passport on inspection and still wanted to enter Niger only had to pay a fine of 1,500 FCFA, about $23, and were then issued a pass to enter Niger within the next 24 hours. This is impossible today.[46]

Just over a mile from the current Yassan border post, the IOM works with the authorities to set up a new border crossing. At the entrance to the city of Gao and in Kidal in northern Mali, the IOM also runs stations that register all travelers who are believed to be migrants.[47]

The new policy also affects Gao. Many destitute people are stranded here after robberies or other incidents force them to quit their northbound journey. They return from the north on the trucks of Libyan grocery merchants. Libyan products such as noodles, soap or cigarettes are customer favorites throughout Africa. The merchants transport goods from Libya to the south and take migrants northward on their way back. When the merchants lie down somewhere in Gao to sleep, soldiers often pick them up and take them to the police station. English speakers in particular are quickly suspected of being spies for the terrorist group Boko Haram. If the police cannot substantiate this suspicion, they accuse the merchants of ‘nighttime loitering’. According to Kamden, there were no such charges and detentions in Gao before. These practices are a ‘direct consequence of increased pressure from the European side’, Eberl says.[48]

Malian police officers have also targeted travelers in recent years; the transition from routine inspection duties to ‘small-scale police corruption’ is smooth, says Eberl. They now frequently stop northbound buses and check passengers’ papers. While travelers have always had to pay ‘fees’, Kamden says, security forces are now picking out those they suspect of being ‘candidates for migration’.[49]

A similar approach was witnessed on the route between the Malian capital Bamako and Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso. Locals from Heremakono in southern Mali’s Ségou region told Eberl that larger groups of travelers were regularly intercepted at the border after officials refused to accept their papers or they failed to pay up.[50]

It ‘cannot be verified to what extent police harassment aimed at travelers directly relates to migration policy requirements,’ Eberl writes. But unlike just a few years ago, it has become much harder to travel without ID in a part of the world where not everyone has a passport. Controls are more restrictive since the Valletta Summit. Interests overlap between police officers, who earn extra income from the fees, and the migration regime, which wants to block the way north.[51]

In April 2016, Mali introduced new biometric passports that were claimed to be forgery-proof, although the previous version already recorded biometric information. Mali also just issued a biometric ECOWAS identity card.

This makes Mali one of the biometric ID pioneers in West Africa. Agencies and governments at home and abroad applaud this measure to combat irregular migration and to improve national security. For a long time, fake Malian passports and ID cards were traded along the Sahel and Maghreb migration routes, because Malian citizens are officially allowed to enter Algeria without a visa and move freely. This greatly enhanced the safety of migrants temporarily seeking a livelihood in Algeria or wanting to cross the country on their way to other Maghreb states or to Europe, says Eberl. [52]

The Malian government would like to shut down this practice. Various voices in the Malian public also promote a nationalist discourse by claiming that other nationalities traveling with Malian passports posed a national security threat. This discourse links the passport question to the real threat from armed criminal groups, which exists regardless of migration. The new passports and ID cards are also advertised as travel facilitators and signs of a modern state, reports Eberl.[53]

However, many Malians complain about serious complications related to the new documents. For example, citizens must pay the fee for the new, ‘top-security’ passport to the private Ecobanc. This transaction, in turn, requires them to present a ‘Carte NINA’ (Numéro d’Identification Nationale), an ID card that was originally conceived as a voter registration document.[54]

In practice, this convoluted process has barred many Malians, including those living abroad, from obtaining a new passport. The stricter controls at the borders also domestically curtail free movement for everyone who, for various reasons, has no current travel documents. This affects not just migrants, but also threatens the livelihood of population groups whose everyday life and work depend on cross-border travel:[55] traveling merchants and migrant workers, but also nomadic or semi-nomadic herders, such as the Tuareg in the border regions of northern Mali. Their identity is not tied to citizenship, and for a long time they crossed different territories without presenting passports. Last but not least, Mali’s biometric passport system is vulnerable, since the EU is trying to access Malian databases to identify and deport Malian nationals.[56]

At Bamako-Sénou International Airport it is now standard practice to scan the fingerprints and handprints of all incoming and outgoing travelers. Combined with the biometric features, this makes it more difficult to travel with a borrowed passport, which was one loophole for aspiring emigrants who had no chance of winning one of the rarely granted visas and did not wish to risk their lives in the desert and at sea.[57]

Burkina Faso also faces new restrictions. Since 2016, several terrorist attacks with dozens of victims have hit the country. As Burkina Faso had not experienced comparable attacks in decades, it brought the terrorist threat back onto the political agenda and created a climate in which large parts of the population welcome the increased presence of state security forces and tighter border surveillance.[58]

The incidents also justified measures targeting suspected or actual migrants, such as upgraded border posts. According to the Burkinabé press, a new IT system was installed at the border posts in Madouba (Burkina Faso – Mali), Yendéré (Burkina Faso – Côte d’Ivoire) and Dakola (Burkina Faso – Ghana) at the IOM’s initiative, with funding from Japan. The official reason is ‘managing the migration flow’ (‘gestion du flux migratoire’) as well as protection against terrorism, gang crime, arms and drug trafficking.[59]

Police controls on the travel routes have also intensified. A dense network of permanent stations as well as mobile police and gendarmerie posts was set up along the highways. Buses are stopped frequently and all passenger papers checked – not only near the border. In November 2016, a total of six such checkpoints were counted on the Ouagadougou – Bobo-Dioulasso route and another five between Bobo – Dioulasso and the Burkina – Mali border crossing in Kologo., Officers regularly turn back travelers without valid ID, especially in border areas. In the country’s interior, authorities impose additional fines if travelers lack certain extra documents such as vaccination passports or travel orders (ordre de mission). The experience of an artist-activist from the pan-African artist collective Faso Kele also shows how controls have tightened: in February 2016, he reports, Burkinabé border guards refused him entry from Mali, claiming his papers were not valid, although on previous trips he had crossed the border without incident.[60]

Travelers experience increasing restrictions on the northbound roads towards the Nigerien border. Here, too, the gendarmerie and the military have set up multiple checkpoints. It is also standard practice at many of these posts to fine travelers without valid documents. Some posts conduct additional searches. At posts closest to the border, people viewed as ‘migration candidates’ face stricter treatment than other travelers. The last post on Burkinabe territory in Kantchari is a notable example. All bus passengers are searched first, then their buses. All travelers who are not citizens of Burkina Faso are required to pay fees, even if they carry valid documents. If they fail to pay, the authorities confiscate their documents to coerce them. Travelers without valid ID are turned back. Alleged ‘migration candidates’ face special harassment, even if they carry valid documents and are technically allowed to travel freely from Burkina Faso to Niger. Those carrying no money are locked up by the police for a day and robbed of their belongings before being let go. Here, Eberl writes, conventional corruption borders on extortion and kidnapping.[61]

The authorities are trying to train the population to their supposed obligation to carry valid documents at all times, especially when traveling. The ‘we need to know who’s who and who crosses our borders’ rationale is also popular in Burkina Faso, as terrorist attacks and assaults are acute issues, says Eberl.[62]

For Olawale Maiyegun, Secretary for Migration and Social Affairs at the AU, there is a fundamental conflict of interest between the EU’s desires to see the movements of people in Africa channeled, documented and regulated, and the AU’s ideas. ‘In 2014 we decided to create freedom of movement throughout the continent by 2018,’ says Maiyegun. ‘Yet today, people with German passports can travel more easily throughout Africa than those with African passports.’ If Europe wants to support Africa, it should help to ‘build institutions that enable mobility within Africa.’ This would be much more useful than traditional development projects. ‘Is there any country that development aid has actually developed? I know of none,’ says Maiyegun. ‘Africa has enormous potential, especially its youth. Their abilities need development. This means they must be able to move freely within Africa and continue their education. If we succeed, then in 10 or 15 years, Europeans will be coming to us to recruit workers.’[63]

Tony Luka Elumelu, head of migration for ECOWAS, shares a similar view: ‘By 2050 there will be about 600 million people living in the ECOWAS region, most of them young people. If you put people in a cage for too long, someday they won’t take it anymore.’[64]

  1. Jakob, Christian (2017) ‘Endstation Agadez’, tageszeitung, 18 December |!5468121/
  2. Ibid.
  3. Africa-Frontex Intelligence Community Joint Report 2015, Warsaw, 21 January 2016, p. 6 |
  4. Africa-Frontex Intelligence Community Joint Report 2016, Warsaw, 6 April 2017, p. 12 |
  5. Jakob (18 December 2017)
  6. Ibid.
  7. Ibid.
  8. EU (2018) The European Union's partnership with the G5 Sahel countries |
  9. Jakob (18 December 2017)
  10. Ibid.
  11. Ibid.
  12. Africa-Frontex Intelligence Community Joint Report (2017)
  13. Jakob (18 December 2017)
  14. Ibid.
  15. Diallo, Ibrahim Manzo (2017) ‘EU strategy stems migrant flow from Niger, but at what cost?’ IRIN, Agadez, 2 February |
  16. 'Notes from press conference with German Chancellor Merkel and President of the Republic of the Niger, Mahamadou Issoufou, Niamey, 10 October 2016’, Bundesregierung, 10 March 2019 |
  17. Leithäuser, Johannes (2016) ‘Merkel sagt Niger Millionenhilfe zu’, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 10 October |
  18. Gänsler, Katrin (2017) ‘Country report: Niger’, Migration Control Database, tageszeitung, 5 March 2019 |
  19. EU will support Niger with assistance of €1 billion by 2020’, European Commission press release database, Brussels, 13 December 2017 |
  20. Jakob (18 December 2017)
  21. Ibid.
  22. Ibid.
  23. Ibid.
  24. Ibid.
  25. Ibid.
  26. Ibid.
  27. Ibid.
  28. Ibid.
  29. Chaibou, Albert (2017) ‘Europas neue Grenze’, tageszeitung, 28 June |!5423916/
  30. Jakob (18 December 2017)
  31. Niger News, Aljazeera ‘More than 40 migrants “die of thirst” in Niger’ |
  32. Personal interview, for documentary ‘Türsteher Europas’, Geneva,  January 2018, |
  33. Public discussion with Albert Chaibou, Berlin, 28 June 2017
  34. ‘Speech by Federal President Joachim Gauck to the Commission of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in Abuja/Nigeria on 10 February 2016’, Bundespraesident, 6 March 2019 |
  35. Personal interview with Alassane Dicko in Abidjan, November 2017
  36. International Organization for Migration (IOM) Database (2019) ‘Mali’, UN Migration, West and Central Africa, 6 March |
  37. Stäritz, Andrea (2016) ‘Man kriminalisiert Migration’, tageszeitung, 12 December |
  38. DSW Subregion Report (2019) ‘West Africa’, Deutsche Stiftung Weltbevölkerung (DSW), 6 March |
  39. Dick, Eva and Schraven, Benjamin (2018) ‘Regional Migration Governance in Africa and Beyond’, Discussion paper, Deutsches Institut für Entwicklungspolitik, Bonn, 2018
  40. Personal interview with Ralph Genetzke, Brussels, 7 December 2016,
  41. Biographical reference, Hans-Georg Eberl |
  42. Eberl, Hans-Georg (2016) ‘Corruption and control. Mali: Country Report’, Migration Control Database, tageszeitung, December 2016 |
  43. Ibid.
  44. Ibid.
  45. Ibid.
  46. Ibid.
  47. Ibid.
  48. Ibid.
  49. Ibid.
  50. Ibid.
  51. Ibid.
  52. Ibid.
  53. Ibid.
  54. Ibid.
  55. Ibid.
  56. Ibid.
  57. Ibid.
  58. Ibid.
  59. Ibid.
  60. Ibid.
  61. Ibid.
  62. Ibid.
  63. Jakob, Christian (2017) ‘Eine Brutstätte für Extremisten’, tageszeitung, 11 February |
  64. Stäritz, Andrea (2016) ‘Die große Vision: offene Grenzen’, tageszeitung, 12 December |


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