EU-sponsored interventions targeting irregular migration in Agadez have been very effective in putting human smugglers out of business. EU police training missions and support for the Nigerien development of migration action plans contributed to the arrests of at least 282 facilitators of migration and the confiscation of at least 300-350 pickup trucks used to transport migrants through the desert.[20] This resulted in an estimated 75 percent reduction, at the least, of mixed migration movement passing through and north of Agadez in 2017.[21] Yet migration continues – albeit in a less visible way. This raises the question of how contemporary migration governance in the Sahel, such as the hard security interventions outlined above, has affected the journeys of irregular migrants through the region – particularly with regard to human rights violations. What impact has current migration governance had on migrants’ vulnerability?

Box 2
The difference between human smuggling and human trafficking

This study distinguishes between human smuggling and human trafficking as related but distinct phenomena. International conventions define human smuggling as ‘the procurement, in order to obtain, directly or indirectly, a financial or other material benefit, of the illegal entry of a person into a State Party of which the person is not a national or permanent resident’.[22] In more colloquial terms, this means that a voluntary transaction takes place between the migrant/refugee and the smuggler, where the latter facilitates the former’s irregular movement (i.e. without the necessary papers).

Human trafficking is defined as ‘the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation’.[23] As is the case for human smuggling, human trafficking often involves the facilitation of (irregular) movement of people. Yet where migrant smuggling entails the facilitation of irregular migration across international borders, trafficking does not necessarily involve transborder movement. Trafficked persons may be migrants and/or refugees, but people are also trafficked within their own country of origin.

Increase in human rights abuses

The northern part of Niger has always been a difficult zone to control, and a dangerous zone to navigate. Smugglers of goods and people, traffickers of various illegal commodities, road bandits and non-state armed groups use remote Saharan routes across and along the borders with Mali, Algeria, Libya and Chad to transport their wares and/or to attack the convoys of others. Before mid-2016, when Law No. 2015-036 against human smuggling began to be enforced, migrant transporters protected themselves against the dangers associated with traversing the desert by joining the weekly official transport convoy between Agadez and Dirkou – midway between Agadez and the Libyan border post of Toumo. Nigerien armed forces provided protection to this convoy, thereby ensuring relatively safe passage for migrants and transporters alike.[24]

Since mid-2016, however, vehicles transporting migrants are no longer able to follow the convoy, as the Nigerien authorities are arresting migrant drivers and guides.[25] This has resulted in a shift from the official route to many unofficial ones.[26] Indeed, as many officials acknowledge, mobility did not end, and many smugglers now drive on little-used roads, avoiding entering Agadez and other towns altogether.[27] One consequence of this development was that from 2016 onwards the trip became increasingly risky – or even deadly – for migrants. Figures from the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) show that the number of deaths in the Nigerien desert has risen since Law No. 2015-036 began being enforced. According to the organisation’s Global Migration Data Analysis Centre, the number of migrant deaths in the desert on the roads between Agadez and southern Libya or southern Algeria rose from 71 in 2015, to 95 in 2016, and to 427 in 2017.[28] The Mixed Migration Monitoring Mechanism Initiative (4Mi) data collected by the Mixed Migration Centre (MMC) shows that the overwhelming majority of reported migrant deaths in Niger occur in Agadez and ‘Other’ (which, for the surveys conducted in Libya, covers the desert region beyond Agadez city) (see Figures 1 and 2).[29]

Figure 2
Location of migrant and refugee deaths witnessed in Niger (4Mi West Africa data)
Location of migrant and refugee deaths witnessed in Niger (4Mi West Africa data)
Figure 3
Location of migrant and refugee deaths witnessed in Niger (4Mi Libya data)
Location of migrant and refugee deaths witnessed in Niger (4Mi Libya data)

In addition, drivers increasingly abandon migrants in the desert, particularly if they are being chased, or fear they are being chased, by security forces and want to lighten their load in order to escape. Drivers also force their passengers to walk, sometimes for long distances, in particular in the Niger-Algeria borderlands, to avoid towns, checkpoints on main roads, and patrols.[30] In the first nine months of 2018, IOM rescued 412 migrants in the desert around Agadez and 938 migrants in the area surrounding Dirkou and Bilma.[31] On new desert routes, migrant cars also increasingly face attacks by road bandits aiming to steal migrants’ or drivers’ possessions, or the vehicles themselves.[32] 4Mi data reflect the prevalence of robberies of migrants in the Agadez region: 60 percent of robberies reported to have taken place in Niger occurred in Agadez (West Africa dataset). In the Libya dataset, which accounts for protection incidents that took place after the last 4Mi monitoring point in Agadez city, this increases to 87 percent.[33]

Figure 4
Location of migrant and refugee robberies witnessed in Niger (4Mi West Africa data)
Location of migrant and refugee robberies witnessed in Niger (4Mi West Africa data)
Figure 5
Location of migrant and refugee robberies witnessed in Niger (4Mi Libya data)
Location of migrant and refugee robberies witnessed in Niger (4Mi Libya data)

Furthermore, the situation in the walled compounds in Agadez city where migrants and refugees are lodged during their stay in the town has changed for the worse. Respondents with access to these ‘ghettos’ reveal that these compounds – controlled by operators involved in the irregular migration industry – have become smaller and are relocated more frequently to avoid detection. Previously, the compounds would generally house some 200-300 people at a time in one or two big rooms or courtyards. Today, ghettos are usually small houses, often located in the city centre, and housing no more than 10 migrants on average. Other ghettos are located outside of the city entirely – catering to new migration routes that circumvent Agadez altogether. Both developments have made it more difficult for humanitarian agencies to locate migrants and provide services. It has also become more difficult for these agencies to gain access to the ghettos, as ghetto managers fear detection by the authorities.[34]

This is highly problematic, as migrants rely on humanitarian aid while they are in the Agadez ghettos.[35] Conditions in the ghettos are increasingly precarious, with high levels of food insecurity. The ghettos outside the city tend not to have access to water and sanitation facilities. Resultant health problems often remain untreated – as do psychosocial conditions.[36] It should therefore come as little surprise that sickness and lack of access to medical assistance are the main causes of witnessed migrant and refugee deaths in Niger in the 4Mi West Africa dataset, which, due to the design of the migrant surveys, focuses more on the city of Agadez than on the desert region beyond.

Figure 6
Cause of witnessed deaths in Niger (4Mi West Africa data)
Cause of witnessed deaths in Niger (4Mi West Africa data)

The ghetto operators often stop migrants from leaving the ghetto, for fear that they will be detected and arrested.[37] Several sources also report that migrants may be held hostage for ransom when they are smuggled into the city.[38] At the same time, migrants are staying in ghettos for longer periods of time, as desert journeys have become riskier and more expensive. Prices for transport to Libya and Algeria have gone up due to increased risks for smugglers. Police officials have also become more active in bribery and the confiscation of migrants’ possessions on the route between Niamey and Agadez as well as in Agadez itself (see Box 3). These developments have contributed to a situation in which migrants are stuck for longer periods of time in Agadez because they do not have enough money to deal with these unforeseen and higher costs.

Box 3
Increases in armed forces' bribery

Longer routes and riskier journeys have resulted in an rise in the fares that smugglers request from migrants. In addition, the criminalisation of migrant smuggling has also increased the bribes that various security forces request from both migrants and smugglers to not enforce the law. Many migrants testify that they encountered numerous checkpoints and patrols on their route, notably in Niger and at the Burkinabe-Nigerien border, and that bribes were often demanded.[39] According to J., a Cameroonian migrant who entered Agadez in 2017, ‘All the passengers had to get out of the bus. But the soldiers did not care about the passports, they only asked for money: XOF 5,000 (EUR 7.50) each. As I had no money, they searched me and cuffed my hands, threatening me with prison. I was scared, many people spoke of torture in prison. But [my friend] paid for me and we entered town.’[40] According to testimonies collected by a humanitarian organisation in early 2018, this amount has since risen to XOF 10,000-15,000 (EUR 15-22).[41]

In Chad, controls at checkpoints on routes to Libya have also reportedly been tightened, and foreigners targeted. As in Niger, the newly opened migrant routes in Chad (discussed in more detail below) appear to have had the effect of increasing the amount of the bribes demanded by security forces on the roads. Until 2018, amounts demanded at Chadian checkpoints, were, according to various travellers, of XAF 500-1,000 (EUR 0,75-1,50) (at least 10 times less than in Niger or Sudan). A.O., a Darfurian asylum seeker reports, however, that as soon as he left Tina towards Kalaït, ‘at the checkpoint, all non-Chadians had to pay XAF 20,000’ (EUR 30).[42] Another Darfurian asylum seeker, A.A., had to pay a bribe to Chadian security forces ‘eight or nine times’ on his way to Libya. ‘At the end, I had no more money. Then the soldiers asked me to get down, accused me of being a rebel, searched me and took my belongings.’ When he complained, the soldiers answered, ‘We are the government but we need to eat.’[43]

Diversification of routes towards Chad

The implementation of Law No. 2015-036 has affected not only routes and ghettos in Niger itself, but as demand for migration remains high, routes have shifted to neighbouring countries to satisfy this demand. Chad has felt the consequences of these changes, with smugglers opening up new routes through its territory – routes that are often longer, more dangerous and more expensive.

A 2018 study by the Clingendael Conflict Research Unit has shown that this is also a consequence of developments in migration governance in Sudan. There, in 2016, the government responded to European pressure to stop irregular migration by deploying the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) – a paramilitary group of re-hatted Darfur Arab militias (janjawid) that have been under direct presidential control since 2016 – on the routes leading to Libya. In practice, this has meant that the RSF has taken over the migration smuggling industry in the border region and arrests migrants using the services of their civilian competitors. Established civilian smugglers who are unwilling to associate with the RSF have changed their routes towards Chad in response.[44] A main, new route towards Libya for migrants coming from the Horn of Africa, including the Sudanese themselves, now passes through the town of Tina at the border of Chad and Sudan.[45] The RSF also transports migrants to the Sudan-Chad border, where they hand over the migrants to Chadian civilian smugglers.

As a result of these developments in Niger and Sudan, Chad has increasingly become a major transit country to Libya for migrants from both West Africa and the Horn of Africa.[46] Migrants interviewed in Chad reported various abuses they suffered at the hands of Chadian smugglers. Smugglers asked for more money and sometimes beat up migrants. Others were abandoned in the desert after having paid for the whole trip to Libya.[47] Unlike in Libya, kidnapping migrants for ransom is uncommon in Chad. Nevertheless, some Chadian smugglers sold migrants to Libyans, who then kidnapped them for ransom or coerced them into forced labour. Forced labour has also been reported in gold mines on Chadian soil (see Box 4).[48]

In the borderland between Chad and Libya, in particular on the Libyan side, various armed groups, including Chadian bandits, regularly set up roadblocks and patrols, with migrants being particular targets. Some groups specifically attack migrant convoys in order to kidnap and resell migrants, in particular Eritreans, to Libyan traffickers. Others ask for immediate payments. A.O., a Darfurian migrant mentioned above, witnessed the assassination of his driver, who had run out of money and could not pay the militia operating a checkpoint: ‘At night, the militiamen came, drunk, and started beating up the driver, then they shot at him and killed him. They looked like bandits even if they kept telling us they were the authority.’[49]

Box 4
The overlap between human smuggling and the gold mining industry

Since 2012, major gold discoveries in the Tibesti mountains of north-western Chad have led to the opening of new routes from western and eastern Chad to Tibesti, as well as from south-western Libya to Tibesti. In particular, the Kouri Bougoudi gold mine, straddling the border between Chad and Libya, has become a main hub for migrants travelling to Libya. Further east, the Kilinje gold mine, mostly on Libyan territory, is also, to a lesser extent, a stage post for migrants coming from both north-eastern Chad and Sudan, and heading towards both Kufra and the Fezzan region of Libya. Within Chad, the new migration routes largely coincide with the gold routes, in particular to Kouri Bougoudi. Vehicles travelling on those routes have begun to transport migrants together with gold miners. In addition, migrants can stop over in the goldmines in the hope of finding enough gold to either continue their journey within Libya or return home with the same money they were hoping to get from migration. On the contrary, unlucky gold miners can change their plans and become migrants heading towards Libya and Europe.[50]

The merging of migration and gold mining on the routes to Kouri Bougoudi is well established, so that according to various migrants, at departure points (most notably Tina but even more remote points such as El-Fasher and Malha in North Darfur), ‘smugglers just ask you whether you want to go to the gold or to Libya’.[51] Passengers can even travel for free and pay their debt to the vehicle’s owner – who can be both a transporter and a ‘boss’ of a gold miners’ crew – by looking for gold, which is a risk, as not all miners find gold and mining bosses can be exploitative and abusive. Finding gold is a hazardous search and gold miners who arrive with debts not only have to repay their transporter, but can also see their debt increase as their boss asks them to pay for their food and water. According to M.D., a Chadian migrant who went through Kouri Bougoudi, ‘It’s a dangerous place – gold miners die in Kouri falling down in mining wells, others are killed by their bosses who do not intend to pay them, and there are also criminals such as drug traffickers.’[52]

Beyond exploitation and abuse, Kouri Bougoudi was also the theatre of direct armed violence. First, there were incidents between gold miners and the local Tubu community, including armed ‘self-defence’ militiamen, which culminated in a raid by the latter, in August 2015, when 67 gold miners were killed. After this incident, the Chadian army intervened and repeatedly ordered the evacuation of the mines, which has sometimes been brutally carried out. In 2017, some gold miners, and possibly migrants, were not able to get a place on vehicles and left Kouri Bougoudi on foot, some of them reportedly dying in the desert. Gold miners managed to return to Kouri Bougoudi after each evacuation, until August 2018, when Chadian rebels based in Libya attacked Chadian army units present in the gold mines, sparing the miners. The Chad government, suspecting rebels could hide among the gold miners, ordered a new evacuation of the mine, which was followed by aerial strikes that killed at least two civilian traders.

Increased controls, in particular on the road between Niger and Libya, have not only pushed West African migrants towards Chad but have also resulted in a re-opening or an increased circulation on routes west of the Agadez-Libya axis, notably routes between Niger and Algeria. To avoid the route through Agadez, some West African migrants have taken to routes through Mali to Algeria. These routes, which run through the regions of Gao, Kidal and Tessalit (to join Tinzawatène, Timiaouine or Bordi Mokhtar across the Algerian border), and to a lesser extent through the Timbuktu region (Ber) to the Algerian border, had lost their popularity during the insecurity in northern Mali that began in 2012.[53] Today, radical armed groups in northern Mali benefit from migrant smuggling or from attacking migrant convoys.

In 2016, for example, N.D., a Guinean migrant, travelled from Gao to Algeria alongside 70 passengers on the top of a lorry. North of Gao, they came upon a roadblock, where turbaned gunmen asked for XOF 5,000 per migrant. ‘When we were authorised to continue, the driver told us there were five to seven more roadblocks on our way but that he would bypass them. We crossed the border without any control. We arrived in Timiaouine [in Algeria] in a courtyard with armed men. We learned we were now in the hands of Mohamed Talhandak.’[54] N.D. and fellow migrants were then sold by Talhandak’s gunmen to sub-Saharan (Guinean, Senegalese and Gambian) traffickers associated with the armed group. This is not an isolated incident, as, according to the UN Security Council Panel of Experts on Mali, ‘the case of Mahamadou Ag Rhissa, also known as Mohamed Talhandak, best illustrates the connection between migrant smuggling and armed group activity [more generally].’[55]

Because routes from Niger to Algeria are also watched, and because Algerian security forces exert a much tighter control on their borders than, possibly, any other government in the region, migration to Algeria through Mali and Niger generally involves long and dangerous walks in the desert.[56] Once in Algeria, migrants who are not planning to work in the country but rather to travel further, including crossing the Mediterranean, may head to Libya. Migrants have become aware, however, that the Mediterranean crossing between Libya and Europe has been increasingly closed by interceptions from the Libyan Coast Guard, backed by the EU and Italy, and that sub-Saharan migrants face high costs and horrific abuses in Libya. Many therefore now head to Morocco. Interviews with migrants who arrived in 2018 in Europe confirm that European policies along the central Mediterranean route (including in Libya and Niger) provoked a resumption of migration across both Algeria and Mauritania to Morocco, then to Spain.[57] This would explain why Spain has seen an increased number of arrivals in 2018 (see Table 1).

Table 1
Total arrivals in Spain[58]


Land arrivals

Sea arrivals

2018 (October)















In return, Algeria and Morocco have begun to deport migrants to remote desert areas along their southern borders. The 2008 Law on Conditions of Entry, Stay and Movement of Foreigners in Algeria (No. 08-11) allows for the expulsion of irregular migrants from the country.[59] Algeria also signed an expulsion agreement with Niger in December 2014.[60] As a consequence of this agreement, expelled Nigeriens are treated differently from other irregular migrants – meaning that they are transported directly to Agadez. The Agadez authorities subsequently organise the return of these migrants to their regions of origin, mainly Diffa and Zinder. In 2018, the number of expelled Nigeriens has soared, with the numbers for the period January-June 2018 (26,645 expelled Nigeriens) already more than doubling those for 2017 (11,188 expelled Nigeriens).[61] According to the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, these expulsions do not allow for individual risk assessments and due process guarantees, and therefore do not respect the fundamental principle of non-refoulement.[62]

West African migrants cannot be expelled to Niger under the agreement between Niger and Algeria. Instead, the Algerian authorities round up these migrants and drop them off in the desert – some 25 kilometres away from the Niger border town of Assamakka. The migrants are forced to walk through an inhospitable terrain without adequate provisions. Several human rights organisations have sounded the alarm on the grave human rights violations and deaths that are the result.[63] In the words of William Lacy Swing, then Director General of IOM, ‘Irregular migrants, including many pregnant women and minors, should not be left without food or water or expected to walk for miles in blistering 30-degree temperatures to seek safety in the desert.’

The government of Niger gave IOM responsibility for addressing the situation of non-Nigerien migrants expelled to Niger.[64] In that capacity, IOM has counted the number of migrants crossing the border between Algeria and Niger on foot since May 2017. Numbers have increased from 135 in May 2017 to more than 8,000 in July 2018 (with 4,666 expulsions taking place between January and July 2018).[65] According to IOM, a total of 11,276 expelled irregular migrants have arrived on foot in Niger since they began their count. This figure does not take into account the number of migrants who died in the desert or who were dropped at the border with Mali.[66] Amnesty International has similarly reported that Morocco has swept up an estimated 5,000 people since July and left them in desert areas close to the Algerian border or in the south of the country.[67] With regard to the collective expulsions from Algeria to Niger, the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants has stated that these are ‘in utter violation of international law, including the fundamental principle of non-refoulement and due process guarantees’.[68]

Gender-based violence and human trafficking

While the majority of migrants travelling through Chad and Niger are young men, some are women, notably from Nigeria and Eritrea, and they are often the victims of violence. Rape and forced prostitution are widespread in Libya,[69] but female migrants and refugees also experience such abuses, though to a lesser extent, on sections of their journeys before they reach Libya, including in Niger.[70] There are also reports that female migrants unable to pay bribes at checkpoints in Niger were forced to have sex with members of the Nigerien security forces manning those checkpoints.[71] The 4Mi data reflect this: between 8 percent (West Africa dataset) and 14 percent (Libya dataset) of reported incidents of sexual assault in Niger are ascribed to immigration officials and security forces (see Figures 6 and 7). There are also reports of rapes and forced prostitution of sub-Saharan migrants in Algeria and Morocco. In Morocco, women are reportedly abused sexually by members of security forces in order to avoid arrest or deportation, as well as by Moroccan or sub-Saharan smugglers and intermediaries in exchange for accommodation or the crossing to Spain.[72]

Figure 7
Alleged perpetrators of witnessed sexual assault in Niger (4Mi West Africa data)
Alleged perpetrators of witnessed sexual assault in Niger (4Mi West Africa data)
Figure 8
Alleged perpetrators of witnessed sexual assault in Niger (4Mi Libya data)
Alleged perpetrators of witnessed sexual assault in Niger (4Mi Libya data)

Some migrant women, notably from Nigeria and Côte d’Ivoire, appear to have been, knowingly or not, in the hands of traffickers since the beginning of their journey.[73] They may be victims of rape or forced prostitution at different stages along their journey, including in Nigerien transit hubs such as Agadez and Dirkou.[74] In the ghettos in Agadez, there are many accounts of women who end up in local prostitution networks. They are mostly Nigerian and work to repay a debt. The networks seem fairly well established and there is often a system in place where older Nigerian women ‘manage’ a number of younger girls (often minors).[75]

More generally, the main danger faced by sub-Saharan migrants heading to Europe in recent years has been that of being kidnapped by – or sold to – traffickers, who then torture the migrants while or before phoning their relatives in order to extract a ransom. This practice can be traced back to the Sinai desert in Egypt, where Bedouin tribes kidnapped and held mainly Eritrean refugees between 2009 and 2014. These refugees were reputed to be able to pay high ransoms due to their diaspora networks.[76] The practice has since spread to Libya, where it is currently implemented in a systematic manner to migrants from any country – with Eritreans and other people from the Horn of Africa being considered particularly valuable. Migrants who do not manage to contact relatives or pay a ransom are often forced to work for free on farms, in construction or in gold mines – if they do not die from torture or detention conditions first.[77]

Migrants who were victims of human trafficking networks in Libya often say that those who detained and abused them included non-Libyans, including sub-Saharans, some from the same country as themselves. Traffickers were sometimes former migrants, including from West Africa, who, after being abused themselves, were selected to be intermediaries, notably for their language skills. The traffickers also included more powerful non-Libyan players, such as Sudanese, Eritreans and Ethiopians, who move back and forth by plane between Libya and their own countries, and most likely play crucial roles in recruiting migrants and transferring money.[78]

Until recently, Nigeriens and Chadians were rarely mentioned as traffickers – despite the fact that they make up significant diaspora communities in Libya. On the contrary, the diaspora from neighbouring countries such as Niger, Chad and Sudan appear to have shown solidarity towards their respective countrymen trafficked in Libya, including by providing them with accommodation, finding them paid labour, and paying their ransoms as well their fares for the Mediterranean crossing. However, since at least 2017, Nigerien migrant smugglers mentioned that traffickers operating notably in Sebha were offering them money, or even vehicles, in exchange for handing over their passengers to the traffickers, even if those passengers had paid in full for their journey.[79] It is impossible to estimate how common this practice is, yet migrants themselves report that Nigerien and Chadian smugglers increasingly sell their passengers for kidnapping for ransom, bonded labour or slave labour, in Libya as well as in Algeria.[80]

There are, to a lesser extent, reports that such abuses may also be spreading to Niger and Chad. As early as 2013-14, a Syrian migrant kidnapped in Libya was detained in Niger by bandits before being released by the Nigerien authorities.[81] In Chad, M.A., a Chadian migrant, reported that, while travelling between Kalaït and Libya, he and fellow travellers were repeatedly beaten on the road, and threatened with being abandoned in the desert by their own smugglers, who were asking for more money.[82] Chadian smugglers also reportedly held their passengers in debt bondage in goldmines in the Chad-Libya borderlands and sold them for slave labour in Libyan goldmines. A Darfurian refugee in Chad told Radio France Internationale how, as early as 2014-15, after he had agreed to look for gold to refund the Chadian smuggler who had driven him to Kouri Bougoudi, this smuggler sold him in Kilinje gold mine: ‘The boss […] took us to the mines of Kalinga [Kilinje], Libya. The Chadians sold us to the Libyans.’[83] The 4Mi dataset shows that these are not isolated examples: 1.5 percent of migrants and refugees who travelled through Niger reported having witnessed kidnapping incidents (West Africa dataset).[84]

Kidnapping for ransom and for forced or slave labour also appear to be spreading to Algeria and Morocco, in spite of the fact that, unlike Libya, these are not weak states but countries with a strong government forces. B.I., a Guinean migrant, believes he and his fellow Guinean companion were sold to Algerian traffickers by their Guinean coaxer (intermediary) operating in Mali. ‘We were driven to a house outside Algiers. The guard of the house asked us for money, so I understood we had been sold by [our Guinean coaxer]. We were 15 customers of the same coaxers, guarded by [sub-Saharan] Africans armed with AK rifles. There were more than 100 other prisoners, from Mali, Niger, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Cameroon. We were fed only once a day and beaten each day. They gave us a phone to call our family. If you don’t succeed in calling your family, they set you apart and whip you. My friend was burnt with a red-hot screwdriver. Some died from torture or sickness. After a while, those who still could not get their family to pay a ransom, were driven to Algiers to work in construction.’ B.I. had to do so several times until he managed to escape alongside some 10 captive migrants.[85]

This very concerning development suggests that the criminalisation of human smuggling has pushed people on to routes and into spheres of influence where they are increasingly susceptible to becoming victims of human trafficking. Migrants and refugees are increasingly commoditised and dehumanised now that this practice has begun to spread across the region.

Issue Paper on the definition in the Palermo Protocol link (accessed 24-10-2018).
United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime 2004. United Nations Convention against transnational organized crime and the protocols thereto, link, (accessed 24-10-2018).
Tubiana, J. 2017. ‘Europe’s “Migrant Hunters”’, Foreign Affairs, 31 August.
It should be noted that not all smugglers necessarily joined the convoy before the implementation of Law No. 2015-036. Some chose to take alternative routes to avoid checkpoints, municipality taxes and bribery. F. Molenaar et al. (2017). Turning the Tide. The politics of irregular migration in the Sahel and Libya. CRU Report, The Hague, The Clingendael Institute.
Even Nigerien officials such as Interior Minister Mohamed Bazoum, while defending the 2015 law and claiming the decrease of migration as a success, recently declared to the New York Times that the fight against clandestine migration is not winnable.’ Penney, J. 2018. ‘Europe Benefits by Bankrolling an Anti-Migrant Effort. Niger Pays a Price’, The New York Times, 25 August. Those smugglers who still enter Agadez and carry on with business as usual tend to be well connected to local political elites and therefore operate without restrictions.
See link The Missing Migrants Project data primarily depends on secondary sources of information. Information is gathered from diverse sources such as official records – including from coast guards and medical examiners – and other sources such as media reports, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and surveys and interviews of migrants.
12% (West Africa dataset) and 14% (Libya dataset) of respondents travelling through Niger reported having witnessed migrant deaths. The actual number may be higher, as the response rate to protection incidents questions is generally very low. For example, only 4.2% of respondents in the total West Africa dataset answered the question about whether they had witnessed any migrant deaths on their journey.
J., a young Cameroonian who crossed Niger during the spring of 2017, testifies: ‘Suddenly they dropped us in the middle of the desert with a jerry can of water and pointed in a direction. The seven pickups left us. The sun started burning. After one hour, we ran out of water. On the way, we saw skeletons. Some of us started vomiting blood.’ Personal interview with J., Cameroonian migrant. 2018. Location withheld, August.
IOM Niger: Search & Rescue Operations Factsheet. September 2018. In practice, many migrants are also rescued by the Nigerien armed forces, who present migrants with the option to return home via IOM.
48% for Agadez and 39% for other, which, when compared with the distribution of scores in the West Africa dataset, can only mean the desert region beyond Agadez city.
International Rescue Committee 2018. Pushing the boundaries: Insights into the EU’s response to mixed migration on the Central Mediterranean Route, July. Interviews with two humanitarian organisations active in Agadez. 2018. Agadez. 29 and 31 August 2018.
See: OHCHR (United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner) 2018. End of mission statement of the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, Felipe González Morales, on his visit to Niger (1-8 October 2018), 8 October, link (accessed October 2018).
International Rescue Committee, op. cit. Interviews with three humanitarian organisations active in Agadez. 2018. Agadez. 29, 30 and 31 August 2018.
Interview with member of a humanitarian organisation. 2018. Agadez, 27 August. Interview with a Darfuri refugee. 2018. Agadez, 6 July. In the 4Mi West Africa dataset, 1.4% of respondents who travelled through Niger report having witnessed kidnappings.
Personal interviews with various migrants. 2018. Locations withheld. Their statements are corroborated by the testimonies of migrants collected by a humanitarian organisation in Agadez.
Personal interview with J., Cameroonian migrant. 2018. Location withheld. August.
Telephone interview staff member humanitarian organisation. 2018. 11 October.
Personal interview with A.O., Darfurian asylum seeker. 2018. Location withheld. August.
Personal interview with A.A., Darfurian asylum seeker. 2018. Location withheld. August.
Since 2017, the RSF has been increasingly monopolising migrant smuggling on the routes from Dongola in northern Sudan and Malha in northern Darfur to Kufra in south-eastern Libya. Tubiana, Warin and Saeneen, op. cit., 42-48.
Jaspars S., and Buchanan-Smith M. 2018. Darfuri Migration from Sudan to Europe. From displacement to despair. Joint Study by REF and HPG, August, 37. link
Personal interviews with various migrants. 2018. Chad, January-March.
Due to the recent discovery of the gold mines, combined with their remote location, these mines are not controlled by a single owner or company.
Tubiana, Warin and Saeneen, op. cit., 62-67.
Personal interviews with A.I., Darfurian asylum seeker. 2018. Location withheld, March, and A.O., Darfurian asylum seeker. 2018. Location withheld. August.
Personal interview with M.D., Chadian migrant. 2018. Location withheld. July.
The Malian route was never totally closed, however, and in 2012-13 was reportedly used by migrants who pretended to be radical armed militants in order to benefit from radical armed groups’ facilitations to reach Libya from Mali. At the time, migrants also reportedly joined radical armed groups in the hope of receiving salaries, which could allow them to continue their travel. Personal interview with M., a migrant who went through Mali in 2012-13. 2018. Location withheld. January.
Personal interview with N.D. 2018. Location withheld. October.
B.I., a Guinean migrant, had to walk during three days in the Mali-Algeria borderland - ‘day and night. If you are tired, people just leave you. If you run out of water, nobody will give you water. You will see corpses next to you. We throw some sand on them and carry on…’. Personal interview with B.I., Guinean asylum seeker. 2018. Location withheld. July. Personal interview with J., Cameroonian migrant. 2018. Location withheld, August; and with other migrants. 2018. Locations withheld.
Source: UNHCR. Mediterranean Situation. link (accessed September 2018).
Algérie: Loi n° 08-11 du 21 Joumada Ethania 1429 correspondant au 25 juin 2008 relative aux conditions d'entrée, de séjour et de circulation des étrangers en Algérie [Algeria], 2 July 2008, link (accessed 24 October 2018).
RFI 2015. ‘Nigériens d’Algérie: expulsions ou départs volontaires?’, 16 October. link.
According to data from the Agadez Regional Council, Algeria expelled 1,347 Nigeriens in 2014, 5,966 in 2015, 11,167 in 2016, 11,188 in 2017, and 26,645 in January-June 2018. Agadez Regional Council, 2018. ‘Situation de la migration mixte et ses consequences dans la region d’Agadez’. Presentation at the ‘Forum regional sur l’espace d’asile dans le contexte de la migration mixte’, Agadez, 4 July. According to IOM estimates, Niger expelled 12,177 Nigerien migrants in the first nine months of 2018. See OHCHR, op. cit.
OHCHR, op. cit.
See, for example, Human Rights Watch 2018. Algeria: Inhumane Treatment of Migrants , 28 June. link (accessed 24 October 2018) and Amnesty International 2017. Algeria: Mass racial profiling used to deport more than 2,000 sub-Saharan migrants, 23 October. link (accessed 24-10-2018).
See: OHCHR, op. cit.
OHCHR, op. cit.
AP (Associated Press) 2018. ‘Walk or die: migrants expelled from Algeria forced on deadly march through Sahara’, 25 June. link.
Amnesty International. 2018. Morocco: Relentless crackdown on thousands of sub-Saharan migrants and refugees is unlawful. The figure of 5,000 quoted by Amnesty is an estimation of the Moroccan Association for Human Rights (AMDH), who monitored the number of buses leaving from Tangiers, Tetuan and Nador and calculated an estimate for the number of people deported on these busses. According to the AMDH webpage, their estimation is even higher, namely 6,500 people. link
OHCHR, op. cit.
Personal interviews with migrants, locations withheld, 2018, July-August. Also see Humanitarian NGO confidential report, 2017. The ICC is currently preparing an investigation on the situation in Libya, which would cover rape among other crimes against humanity. See: ICC 2017. Statement to the United Nations Security Council on the Situation in Libya, pursuant to UN Security Council Resolution 1970 (2011), link, (accessed October 2018).
In the 4Mi dataset, 8% of respondents travelling through Niger reported having witnessed sexual assault there (West Africa dataset). The actual number may be higher, as the response rate to protection incidents questions is generally very low. For example, only 4.5% of respondents in the total West Africa dataset have answered the question whether they witnessed any sexual assault throughout their journey. It should be noted that victims of sexual assault are not always women.
Westcott T., IRIN. ‘Special Report. Destination Europe: Overlooked. At Libya’s unchecked southern borders, a key to easing the migration crisis’. 2018, 6 Sept. link (accessed October 2018).
Personal interviews with migrants, locations withheld, 2018, July-August.
Taub B., ‘The desperate journey of a trafficked girl’, 2017. The New Yorker. 10 April. link (accessed October 2018)
Personal interviews in Agadez and Dirkou, 2017, March.
Correspondence with a staff member of a humanitarian organisation. 2018. 11 October. Also see: OHCHR, op. cit.
Amnesty International. 2013. Egypt/Sudan: refugees and asylum-seekers face brutal treatment, kidnapping for ransom and human trafficking, 8.
Personal interviews with migrants, various locations. 2018. Also see El Kamouni-Janssen, F. 2018. ‘Only God can stop the smugglers’: Understanding human trafficking networks in Libya. CRU report, The Hague, the Clingendael Institute, 13-20.
Personal interviews with migrants, various locations. 2018. Also see El Kamouni-Janssen, F., op. cit., 25.
Personal interviews with migrant smugglers, Agadez and Dirkou, March 2017.
A., a Cameroonian migrant mentioned above, says his Nigerien smuggler sold him to Libyan traffickers in Sebha. As his family was not able to pay the ransom, and after he survived torture and a mass execution of those unable to pay, A. was forced to take part in armed robbery in Sebha: ‘Twice, people came at night to pick me. They gave us guns and asked us to be on watch and to shoot at anyone who would surprise them robbing. They were taking cashboxes and goods from shops and putting all in their cars.’ Other migrants were forced to beat their fellow companions. Personal interview with A., Cameroonian migrant. 2018. Location withheld, August.
Personal interview with Nigerien Tubu politician. 2017. Niamey. February. Personal interview with Nigerien Tubu smuggler. 2017. Dirkou. March.
Personal interview with M.A., Chadian migrant. 2018. Location withheld. March.
Bagnetto L. A.. RFI. 8 August. ‘Tales of Slavery and torture for Darfuri refugees in Chad who have nowhere to go’. 2018. link
The actual number may be higher, as the response rate to protection incidents questions is generally very low. For example, only 3.2% of respondents in the total West Africa dataset answered the question of whether they witnessed any kidnapping incidents throughout their journey.