Since late 2014, Europe has faced what has been commonly called the ‘refugee crisis’. In reaction, the European Union and some of its member states bilaterally have attempted to prevent sub-Saharan migrants from crossing the two main physical obstacles on their way to Europe: namely, the Mediterranean and the Sahara. Although sometimes accompanied by humanitarian justifications alleging the dangers and loss of life faced by the migrants, these policies were mostly aiming at pushing governments and security forces of ‘transit countries’ to intercept irregular migrants.

First, in order to prevent migrants from leaving Libya, the various northern Libyan authorities, in particular the internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA), were encouraged to intercept migrants, including those off the Libyan coast. This took place in spite of the absence of a proper government controlling regular forces and a large territory in Libya. More discreetly, European policies also involved attempts to prevent migrants from reaching the Mediterranean coast, blocking their less known but no less dangerous Saharan routes, travelled by most sub-Saharan African migrants on their way to North Africa, then eventually to Europe.

Thus, the EU and member states tried to find ‘partners’ of their migration policies both in Libya’s south, controlled by various ethnic militias, and beyond Libya’s borders in the three Sahelo-Saharan states south of Libya – Niger, Chad and Sudan. On 6 September 2017, the EU Council, discussing migration, recommended ‘reinforcing support to border controls in Southern Libya, Niger and Chad to prevent the movement of irregular migrants towards Libya.’[1] This approach has been commonly labelled ‘externalisation’ of the control of EU borders, outsourcing this task to states, or eventually non-state actors, notably along southern Libya’s borders, in exchange for financial support.

Among the examples illustrating this approach, the best known – and the matrix of all – is the March 2016 agreement between the EU and Ankara encouraging Turkey to retain mostly Syrian refugees on its soil and the EU to return them to Turkey. It was preceded, in November 2014, by the less-known ‘Khartoum process’ targeting migrants and refugees from the Horn of Africa and involving states of this region, not the least Sudan. Later in February 2017, an EU summit in Malta endorsed a bilateral memorandum of understanding between Italy and the Libyan GNA, itself restarting a 2008 treaty between the Libyan Jamahiriya and Italy, then respectively under Qaddafi and Berlusconi.[2]

The EU agreement with Ankara was criticised on the grounds that Turkey was not necessarily a ‘safe country’ to return some of the migrants to, and also in relation to the regime’s increasingly undemocratic nature. The same ethical questions may be asked, at different levels, regarding European migration policies in Libya, and, no less importantly, in the three states south of it. Niger, Chad and Sudan all face significant governance and stability problems. In particular, both Sudan and Chad, whose presidents came to power in 1989 and 1990, respectively, lack democracy or a transition towards democracy, itself a cause of emigration. Sudan is not only a transit country for Horn of Africa migrants but has also been a main country of origin for several million displaced people and refugees who have fled ongoing wars in three major conflict theatres in Sudan and the lack of democratic rule.

This begs the question of whether EU border externalisation policies take sufficient stock of both the political context and the political economy of local communities and migrant smugglers, including those who are now asked to abandon or turn against smuggling. What consequences do border externalisation policies have, not only for the migrants themselves, but for stability in the region as well? To answer these questions, this report focuses on the border areas connecting Niger, Chad, Sudan and Libya. It investigates how the current drive to curtail irregular migration and human smuggling in the Sahara has affected migration routes and practices in the Sahara.

The report is structured as follows. The first section looks at how migration routes and practices in the region have shifted in response to nationally implemented border externalisation policies. It shows that the implementation of migration policies in one country tends to have an effect on migratory routes and practices in other countries and that a more regionally oriented approach to migration is needed. Subsequent sections look at the impact that border externalisation policies in Niger, Sudan and Chad have had on regional and local political and economic stability and security, as well as on the life of local communities and on migrants and refugees themselves. It finds that outsourcing border control to these countries has often meant dealing with questionable border guards and generally had a negative impact on the lives of migrants and refugees as well as on the stability of the countries at issue.

Council of the European Union. 2017. ‘Migration: state of play and next steps − Exchange of views,’ Note, 6 September.
Toaldo, M. 2017. ‘The EU Deal with Libya on Migration: A Question of Fairness and Effectiveness,’ ECFR (European Council on Foreign Relations). 14 February. link