Migration and human rights

Recent migration policies in the Sahel have had serious negative consequences for migrants’ security. Migrant journeys have been affected in direct and indirect ways. In a direct manner, the actions of security forces in northern Niger have pushed the migration industry underground. This has resulted in a deterioration of conditions in the ghettos, in riskier desert journeys, and in an increase in migrant abandonments and deaths in the desert. More indirectly, the blockade of the Agadez route has pushed some prospective migrants to opt for journeys through more inhospitable terrains, such as northern Chad and Mali.

The lack of state presence in these areas means that migrants are more vulnerable to being kept hostage for ransom – a practice that is spreading throughout the North Africa and Sahel regions. The clear commodification and dehumanisation of migrants and refugees that underlies this treatment is unfortunately not limited to non-state actors. The rising number of inhumane migrant deportations to remote desert areas currently taking place at the southern borders of Algeria and Morocco – as well as the refoulement of Darfurian asylum seekers from Agadez to Libya – is similarly indicative of a hardened stance towards migrants – not unlike the one currently seen in Europe.

In a sense, this information should not surprise the international community, as humanitarian and human rights organisations have universally denounced the tensions between current migration policies and respect for migrants’ rights. This study shows that not only do elements of current migration policies in the Sahel contribute to migrant abuse and human rights violations, but that this is an incremental process in which normative boundaries are increasingly shifting and in which migrant abuse and detention by state and non-state actors alike are increasingly becoming structural features of the irregular migration process. Urgent action is needed to counter this tide.

Recommendation 1: Contribute to the development of (sub)national migrant protection frameworks and structures

There is a need to create and to strengthen existing national and sub-national institutions to take the lead in designing and implementing migration management and migrant protection. As well as more targeted interventions to address the abuse at hand, there is a need for structural changes in international migration governance in the Sahel region: from externalising borders to focusing on building migrant protection structures and capacity at national level in regions of migrant transit, such as the Sahel. To date, the main protection responses have been undertaken by the UN and international humanitarian agencies. As discussed throughout this report, this risks alienating local populations at worst, and at best does not contribute to broader processes of institution building and good governance.

Additional advantages of such an approach would be that it could address some of the tensions between central state and regionally elected authorities regarding their role in the design of migration governance, and could form an additional building block for ongoing decentralisation processes. Such an approach would recognise that decentralisation requires a huge learning effort by both local authorities and the central state, and that it is far from likely that local authorities would immediately be capable of handling all the responsibilities, as well as the financial and human resources put suddenly under their control. A constructive way ahead would involve ensuring that all development interventions contribute to the further strengthening of local governance capacities.

International level: Efforts to support migration governance in the Sahel should recognise that migrants who do not fall within the categories of refugees, asylum seekers or assisted voluntary return applicants also have rights, such as under the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of all Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.[178] The OHCHR’s Principles and Guidelines, supported by practical guidance on the human rights protection of migrants in vulnerable situations, provide further guidance.[179] International interventions set a normative tone for the region. All programmes, policies and technical assistance aimed at stopping irregular migration into and through Niger and Chad should be designed to uphold the rights of all migrants.

National level: Invest in a national and regional migrant protection framework. This would bring together government officials, donors and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to identify structural protection needs and design interventions to address these. In Niger, the national government is making ongoing efforts to develop a comprehensive and human rights-based migration policy. The process is being conducted by the Comité interministeriel chargé de l’élaboration d’une politique nationale de migration (Joint ministerial committee in charge of the elaboration of a national migration policy – CIM), presided over by the Interior Ministry. Technical accompaniment could be offered to this process.[180] There is a national Dialogue Framework on Migration that could be used to coordinate the international response to address the abovementioned protection needs. Accompanying capacity development efforts could be developed to target the regional directions and the municipal civil registry (Etat civil, migrations et réfugiés – DR/EC/M/R), which are formally in charge of migration and refugees, to raise awareness about their mandates and necessary tasks in this domain. In the case of Chad, where migration governance is less developed, a starting point would be to conduct a mapping of potential entry points for such a protection framework. On the regional level, these national-level efforts could be connected to ongoing efforts to develop an ECOWAS mixed migration strategy, which develops a common approach to the protection of vulnerable people on the move in the ECOWAS space in the context of mixed migration, particularly refugees, unaccompanied children and victims of trafficking.[181]

National/community level: Support independent monitoring mechanisms and civil society organisations that could monitor abuse and provide protection for migrants. In Niger, the Association Nigérienne de Défense des Droits de l’Homme (Nigerien Association for the Defence of Human Rights – ANDDH) and its local branches, as well as civil society organisations such as L’Association Alternative Espace Citoyen (Alternative Citizens' Space Association) could be helped with capacity building and funding to monitor and report abuse of migrants – particularly at the hands of state authorities – and to ensure that migrants have access to legal recourse. In Chad, where migration governance is less developed, a starting point would be to conduct a mapping of potential entry points for such independent monitoring and support.

Community level: Work with traditional leaders and regional authorities to set up awareness raising campaigns at community level to inform host populations about migrant rights and to create social pressure on smugglers and law enforcement agencies to respect migrants’ rights. Traditional authorities have an important normative and information function that could be leveraged to counter the dehumanisation and commodification of migrants. In a similar vein, religious authorities could be mobilised to create a community environment in which migrants would not be treated as a mere commodity. Such activities might entail mentioning migrants in Friday and Sunday prayers, describing the moral wrongness (haram) of certain practices such as ID confiscation or extortion, visiting houses where migrants are being held to provide spiritual “services” to them etc. In addition, there is a need to invest in joint activities between migrants and communities to (re)humanise migrants. Such efforts could follow the positive examples of IOM and UNHCR, which organise soccer matches that allow migrants, refugees and host communities to become acquainted. These efforts should be further supported and expanded with capacity building or peace education.

More generally speaking, there is a need to improve accountability elements and context sensitivity of migration policies in the Sahel region. These policies should be exemplary in terms of human rights, justice, and context sensitivity and should improve accountability in policies that might contribute to human rights abuses being committed against migrants. Cases of migrants who may have been abused by authorities or forces considered as Europe’s partners on migration should be properly investigated, notably by the UN Security Council’s Panels of experts/Monitoring Groups on Libya, Sudan, Eritrea Somalia, and Mali; and responsible individuals should be listed for sanctions. Cases could also be referred to European judicial authorities the European Court of Human Rights and even to the International Criminal Court, whose prosecutor has expressed a strong commitment to include abuses perpetrated against migrants in the ongoing Libya investigation.

Migration and peace building

This study has also set out to explore the extent to which migration movements and the policies that address them can have destabilising effects on the larger context and to what extent this peace-migration nexus could be addressed through peace building measures. It has found several potential conflict lines in Niger and Chad that could be either exacerbated or alleviated – depending on the type of migration policies being implemented.

Recommendation 2: Ensure that migration governance benefits local communities and addresses the (perceived) negative effects of migration on host communities

The study has found that in Agadez the relationships between local communities and (international) authorities and organisations has been negatively affected by the unmet expectations that the international community would provide support to offset some of the most direct negative economic effects of migration governance in Agadez. At the same time, Agadez sees itself confronted by an increase in southbound mixed migration, which puts additional pressure on the community. These challenges present themselves in a context marked by an incomplete decentralisation process and ongoing power struggles between national and regional/local authorities. Future efforts to implement migration policies in Chad should take account of these findings.

Address the (perceived) negative effects of southbound mixed migration. The direct needs of migrants and refugees currently arriving in Agadez are high and need to be met. At the same time, however, care should be taken that the Agadez community is not left behind. Sufficient funding should be made available to ensure that humanitarian organisations are able to address the needs of both populations. With sufficient funding, programming could follow the Ugandan example where host communities benefit from humanitarian efforts targeting refugees in a 70:30 ratio. In addition, and as an extension of the capacity development efforts recommended above, the international community could invest in technical support and capacity building activities that would improve service provision by regional and municipal authorities.

Conduct a mapping of the ‘losers’ of migration policies and invest in their alternative economic development. As outlined in Chapter 2, many development projects have reached Niger and Agadez over the course of the past year, yet few of them address the main losers of current migration policies. The Reconversion Plan should be redesigned to transform it from an ad hoc money distribution scheme to a structural economic development programme that would offer vocational training to, and seed funding for, former participants in the migration industry to ensure that they invest in economic endeavours that make a structural contribution to the Agadez economy. Care should also be taken to invest outside of Agadez city, such as in the north-east Agadez region. The communities of the Kawar and Aïr oases, which have also suffered significant losses of income, could be better connected to regional markets through their integration into trade convoys (with military escorts) and the further development of date farming and salt mining.

Recommendation 3: Strengthen community security and ensure that securitised migration policies do not harm local communities

To date, the implementation of migration governance has not resulted in outright rebellion in the Agadez region. This should not be seen as a consequence of the conflict-sensitive nature of programming, but rather as consequences of both national and regional state efforts to maintain stability in an otherwise volatile region, and of the northern communities’ efforts to contain the dissatisfaction of local young people. This goes to show that, as often, it is too simplistic to say that grievances will necessarily or immediately translate into armed violence and conflict dynamics. Governance plays an important intermediary factor here, and one that could be leveraged in the future design of migration policies to ensure a more comprehensive and conflict-sensitive approach.

However, the implementation of migration governance also takes place in a region that shows signs of increasing conflict dynamics. A process of militia-sation is underway – driven by the attempts of militias to position themselves as credible partners to the international community for migration management as well as by young unemployed men joining militias, notably in Libya, because of a lack of economic opportunities. At the micro-level, there is an increase in conflicts between various armed groups, traffickers and bandits in the Kawar region of north-eastern Niger. In northern Chad, the state actively seeks to undermine rebel groups by (violently) evicting gold miners and confiscating their pickup trucks. An increase in ethnic tensions between the Goran and Tubu is also apparent in this region – partly fuelled by state actions that pit one ethnic group against the other. More recently, the Chadian government’s belligerence against the Tubu risks sparking a full-scale rebellion.

The implementation of migration policies takes place within these contexts. Any attempt to strengthen borders and/or work with state armed forces runs the risk of potentially getting caught up in these conflict dynamics and of becoming a pawn in larger (ethnic) conflicts fought out between central and peripheral regions. In a more proactive manner, the following steps could be taken to ensure that micro-level drivers of conflict do not become full-blown conflict lines:

Engage with local conflict prevention initiatives. In Agadez, there are many conflict prevention initiatives that could be harnessed to monitor ongoing conflict dynamics and which could be supported through capacity building to improve their effectiveness. Two examples are the Comite de la Paix in Agadez and the Elmecki Forum.[182] The Forum brings together some 500 people from various backgrounds to discuss the consolidation of peace and the culture of citizenship. It was formed after the last Tuareg rebellion when the village of Elmecki was destroyed and residents had to abandon all their property and take refuge in Agadez or elsewhere.

Invest in community security programmes. A common complaint of the Agadez community is that both the international armed presence in the region and technical capacity building programmes, such as EUCAP Sahel, do not improve the security of local communities. A common line of defence on the part of the international community is that these international interventions have other goals, such as fighting terrorism or irregular migration. Yet in the long run, a lack of security for local communities may become a driver of conflict and instability – potentially increasing terrorist and migratory pressures. Any attempt to invest in defence and security forces in the region should therefore invest in the mapping of community security concerns and in addressing them.

By extension, there is a need to improve the relationship between northern communities and the defence and security forces. This relationship is strained and marked by a lack of confidence and communication. In part, this is the result of failed reintegration processes after past rebellions. Measures could be undertaken to invest in a permanent dialogue between security forces and the communities in which they operate. The work of the Danish Demining Group (DDG) in the Liptako-Gourma region can form a source of inspiration here. In addition, care should be taken to ensure that security interventions – including anti-smuggling measures – are underpinned by a human rights and accountability framework, and that failure to live up to those standards would lead to loss of funding. More importantly, any attempt to invest in defence and security forces in the region should invest in local political economy analyses before deployment to ensure that these efforts do not become instrumentalised in larger (ethnic) conflicts between the government and peripheral regions.

OHCHR 1990. International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, link (accessed 24 October 2018).
OHCHR and Global Migration Group, ‘Principles and Guidelines, supported by practical guidance, on the human rights protection of migrants in vulnerable situations’, link (accessed 24 October 2018).
Next to the rights framework mentioned under the previous recommendation, the OHCHR Guidelines for human rights at international borders should be taken into account here. OHCHR, ‘Recommended Principles and Guidelines on Human Rights at International Borders’, link (accessed 24 October 2018).
The (draft) strategy outlines a number of targeted regional objectives for ECOWAS and Member States to improve the protection response in the context of inward mixed migration movements, and to address the adverse drivers contributing to mixed migration in the context of outward migration.
The Forum is organised by the Amicale des ressortissants de la zone d’Elmecki (Residents’ organisation in the Elmecki area – ARZEL). The town of Elmecki is 120km north of Agadez city.