An arid, landlocked state in West Africa, Niger is 1,267,000 km in size and shares borders with Libya, Algeria, Nigeria, Benin, Burkina Faso, Mali, and Chad. Due to its location, Niger has long been a crossroads for trans-Saharan migration via caravan routes that linked the Mediterranean to Africa. The Agadez region, ‘where the Sahara embraces the Sahel’, accounts for 52% of the total area of Niger and is the largest territorial subdivision in Africa. The city of Agadez has for centuries been an important hub for both commercial trade and human migration between West and North Africa. In recent years, it has acted as a strategic location within the trans-Saharan irregular migration corridor, where diverse migratory routes from across West Africa converge in mixed migration flows towards Libya and Europe.Despite popular belief in Europe, migrants departing sub-Saharan Africa do not all intend to cross the Mediterranean; the intended destinations for many are countries in West or North Africa.Historically, northbound routes across West Africa have been used for both human cargo and commerce; often, vehicles travelling to Libya to collect goods would transport migrants northwards, for a fee, to cover costs of the journey. Since the 1990s, however, these patterns have been interrupted by instability and conflict in the region. ECOWAS states have historically been transit, receiving and sending countries for migrants, resulting in regular and common migration flows between these states. Research shows that even amongst those who move northbound to countries such as Libya or Algeria, comparatively few aspire to cross the Mediterranean to Europe: 84% of migration flows occur internally within the ECOWAS region. In recent years, three-quarters of all African migrants arriving by boat in Italy have transited Niger, with flows having increased significantly from the year 2000. Conservative estimates suggest that since then, 100,000 migrants have passed through the country each year. A large increase in mixed migration flows occurred after the fall of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, when the smuggling industry in Libya professionalised and became more dynamic and ruthless, increasingly taking advantage of vulnerable irregular migrants. A breakdown of the state’s governance structures in Libya, combined with increased militarisation in the country marked a crossroads for the human smuggling market. Thus, environmental, socio-economic and political realities as well as high levels of political instability in Libya and other countries in the region have fuelled an increase in migratory flows northwards. Thereafter, hundreds of thousands of migrants passed through Agadez; by 2017, there were approximately 330,000 migrants on the move through the country.
See Part Two