Once a key partner for the European Union in fighting irregular migration, July’s coup d’état in Niger has put that partnership at risk, with the military junta repealing a key anti-trafficking law in response to EU sanctions.


An anti-trafficking law, passed in 2015 but repealed last November just months after the junta’s military takeover, had hugely reduced migrant traffic through the city of Agadez – Niger’s fifth largest city – into the Sahara desert.

In July last year, Niger’s presidential guard detained the president, Mohamed Bazoum, citing a “deteriorating security situation and bad governance.” Neighbouring countries Mali and Burkina Faso – which are also under junta control – backed the military takeover.

The coup was a shock for Brussels, which had long cultivated ties with Niger in order to strengthen the EU’s own border controls. 

As far back as 2004, the EU has been attempting to bolster Niger’s resources in tackling rebels in the north of the country as well as possible terrorism links. That was in exchange for Niger’s help in externalising the EU’s own migration controls.

Since then, the relationship had only grown. Between 2012 and 2016, EU missions tasked with reducing insecurity and terrorism and combatting irregular migration were launched. Made up of some 150 EU officials, the mission was extended for another two years in 2022 and awarded a budget of €72 million.

The 2015, the anti-trafficking bill now repealed by the junta had introduced severe penalties, including fines and imprisonment for involvement in smuggling or trafficking. 

It has been suggested that some of these EU-promoted migration policies in Niger may have contributed to the coup d’état which toppled former leader Bazoum.

Conflicting responses

In retaliation to the coup, the EU halted its support for security and migration projects in the country. Speaking to Euronews, Emanuela Del Re, EU Special Representative for the Sahel, said: “We were obligated to suspend all activities because of the coup d’état.”

“We have been supporting the action of the Ecowas (the Economic Community of West African States), which has imposed sanctions on the junta in power at the moment, because we wanted to send a very important sign that unconstitutional changes in the countries of the Sahel are absolutely unacceptable.”

The EU’s actions haven’t come without consequence – leading to the revoking of the aforementioned anti-trafficking law by the junta.

The EU said it regretted the junta’s decision, warning it could lead to an increase in migratory flows to Europe. 

Javier Nart, MEP for Renew Europe, told Euronews: “It [the junta’s repealment] is indeed a response to the end of the aid. But we cannot maintain an economic aid for a military junta.”

However, for many of Niger’s residents, the decriminalisation of the migrant-smuggling trade could benefit the local economy: many make their living by transporting migrants. 

“Locally, it is considered an ancestral way to live, to trade, to exchange. Population displacement, particularly in the Sahel itself or to northern regions, is considered part of a way of life,” said Niagalé Bagayoko, President African Security Secteur Network.

For the EU, one of the biggest fears is that without the law in place, human trafficking networks could expand in the region.