The number of migrants and asylum-seekers crossing through Niger in a bid to reach Europe fell by 95 percent last year, European Parliament President Antonio Tajani announced ahead of a visit to Niger this week.
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In 2016, 330,000 people crossed Niger, primarily directed to Europe via Libya. The number fell to 18,000 in 2017 and to around 10,000 so far this year.
But Tajani called for more resources to support Niger, one of the poorest countries in the world, to boost security at its borders. Europe must aid the country with its economic, entrepreneurial and technological development, he said in a statement, which was issued on Friday. A US$2.11-billion fund set up by the EU for his country is "not enough".
He also praised Niger for "doing an excellent job" of hosting tens of thousands of migrants evacuated from Libya. "It is unacceptable that of the 1,700 vulnerable refugees evacuated in Niger from Libya, only a few dozen have been accepted by a few EU countries," he added. The Saharan route is notorious for its dangers, which include breakdowns, lack of water and callous traffickers who abandon migrants in the desert.
Nigerian President Mahamadou Issoufou has said his country will continue to act as a transit country for migrants, including those entering from neighboring Libya, but only if they do not stay long.
Tajani, who will meet with the president, said an additional 500 million euros earmarked for the Africa Trust Fund should largely go toward the country's efforts.
After an important arrival of refugees and migrants coming from Africa and the Middle East to Europe in 2015, their number has constantly decreased since then.
Niger has become one of the main crossing routes for poor migrants, with 90 percent of West African migrants passing through the country on their way to Libya and Europe, according to the EU.
In 2015, Niger introduced a law criminalizing people selling migrants safer travels across the desert by a jail term of up to 30 years, while the armed forces also stepped up patrols in the desert. However, these measures may have prompted migrants to use more dangerous off-road tracks to avoid interception. With the route through Libya shutting down as the Libyan coast guard increases patrols, many people are setting their sights westward to routes from Morocco to Spain.