This report analyses the political economy of migration governance in Niger. The research follows a holistic understanding of migration governance considering irregular migration governance, forced migration governance, as well as governance of emigration (diaspora) and immigration. Each governance type is analysed on three levels – governance, political stakes and societal discourse.
The report finds that migration as such is not a key priority issue for Nigerien policy makers. There are however two factors that have contributed to its increased salience in recent years: firstly, external pressures to foster irregular migration governance and secondly, increasing numbers of displaced people present in Niger. Following the so-called migration crisis proclaimed by the EU in 2015, Niger became one of five priority countries of the EU’s 2015 New Partnership Framework with third countries (NPF) under the European Agenda for Migration (EAM). In line with EU interests, migration cooperation focused mainly on irregular migration governance – and led, among others, to the implementation of the 2015-036 law which criminalises smuggling. A second factor that increased the salience of migration governance in Niger is the increasing presence of forcibly displaced people, including IDPs and refugees in the country. Two groups of displaced people can be broadly distinguished. Firstly, displacement relating to the humanitarian migration crisis mainly affecting the displacement context in Niamey and Agadez and secondly, displacement related to conflicts in Sahel countries, at Niger’s South-Western borders. While political and social antagonism has met the arrival of the first group, the presence of the second seems widely accepted.
Regional migration – including the destinations Algeria and Libya – is the most common form of emigration of Nigeriens, though official numbers are low. While circular migration from rural areas constitutes a crucial factor for maintaining livelihoods, diaspora engagement policies remain only marginally developed.
Overall, Niger is not considered an important country of destination for international migration. Immigration policies are strict on paper, but remain poorly implemented. Regional immigration in Niger is governed by the Treaty establishing the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and its protocols Treaty and the Treaty establishing the West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU) that both establish free movement zones among its member states. Overall, regional mobility seems so normalized that it is not necessarily understood as migration.
In terms of the governance, stakes, societal discourse on migration several conclusions can be drawn, discussed below.
We find that:
- Migration governance: Is, especially since 2015, heavily influenced by European interests. A strong focus on irregular migration marginalizes other important migratory interests. However, the NMP which is set to be concluded in 2020 is seen as a chance to reach a more holistic way of governing migration.
- Political stakes of migration governance: Generally, the lack of consideration of the national and regional context in the implementation of a donor-driven policy agenda poses numerous challenges, including national and human security questions, regional cohesion and inter-community movement in border zones. These challenges have been carefully balanced by the Nigerien government who sees advantages in cooperation resulting in state-building, development aid and political advantages linked to partnership with external actors. Further, the proliferation of external actors in the field and the unequal distribution of project funding among international and national actors sparked debate. Additionally, underfunding of humanitarian actors, catering for both the needs of host and displaced populations poses a continuous challenge.
- Societal discourse: Overall, the migration vocabulary employed by international and European actors, is not necessarily in line with social realities. On a societal level, a migrant seems to be understood as a person transiting Niger to Europe while Nigerien emigrants have been referred to as “exodants”. The “belonging” of cross-border communities, for example in Diffa, seems to extend to areas on both sides of the national frontiers. This leads to a partial mismatch of migration governance on paper and in reality. Furthermore, Nigerien society is generally open to host migrants, though some contestation persists regarding the presence of refugees that are not from neighbouring countries.