NIAMEY, Niger – Niger’s new military ruler have repealed a law criminalizing migrant smuggling, a move that could lead to a surge in the number of people crossing the Sahara Desert to Europe.
The law, passed in 2015, had been credited with helping to reduce the flow of migrants through Niger, a key transit point for those seeking to reach Europe. However, it had also been criticized by some for its harsh penalties, which could include up to 30 years in prison.
The new junta, which came to power in a coup in July, said in a statement that the law was “contrary to the interests of Niger and its citizens” and that it had “created a humanitarian crisis” for migrants.
The repeal of the law is likely to be welcomed by migrant smugglers, who have seen their profits plummet since the law was introduced. However, it is also likely to lead to an increase in the number of migrants risking their lives to cross the Sahara Desert, which is known for its extreme heat, sandstorms, and lack of water.
The European Union, which has been working with Niger to stem the flow of migrants, has condemned the repeal of the law. The EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, said that the move was “a step backwards” and that it would “complicate” efforts to address the migration crisis.
The repeal of the law is the latest sign that the new junta is seeking to assert its independence from the international community. The junta has also refused to recognize the legitimacy of the democratically elected president, Mohamed Bazoum, and it has postponed elections that were due to be held in December.
The situation in Niger is likely to remain volatile for the foreseeable future. The junta has not yet announced a clear plan for how it intends to govern the country, and it is unclear how long it will remain in power.