In Context: MOCADEM Action File Niger

Vladimir Blaiotta is a Ph.d candidate at the UNICT (Italy) and EHESS (France). His research focuses on migration management in Niger

Mocadem Action File: Niger

The EU Council has recently set up a new mechanism aiming to coordinate and monitor the operational schemes underlying EU external migration policy. The so-called “Operational Coordination Mechanism for the External Dimension of Migration” (MOCADEM) based at the EU Council and under strategic direction of the Committee of Permanent Representatives (Coreper), MOCADEM provides the operational framework to enhance collaboration with so-called third countries in the domain of migration management.

Here we highlighted compositions and functions of the mechanism and how it reproduces the trends shaping EU’s external dimensions over the last years: indiscriminate use of a lasting paradigm of crisis/emergency, propensity for the set-up of informal agreements, implementation of migration management and control measures as conditionality for third states in order to obtain development and humanitarian assistance.

In February this year the MOCADEM ‘action file Niger’ was leaked enlisting next steps the EU aims to implement in the Sahelian country. Trends emerging from the document follow the same trajectory of the past, placing emphasis on the externalization of asylum procedures, the enhancement of the fight against human smuggling and border control enforcement.


Niger’s Involvement in EU’s External Dimension on Migration

Over the last years Niger has emerged as a reliable partner for the EU in the security domain. The fall of Colonel Gaddafi in 2011 paved the way for raising regional insecurity. In this context Niger’s government has taken the opportunity to show up as a security-provider in the Sahel/Saharan region. Over the last years the efforts of Niger to contain local jihadism and migration have been significant. Indeed, the growing interest of the EU towards the security in the Sahel has resulted in a number of plans, joint actions and financial instruments providing a new stage for the relations between Niger and the EU.

This reconfiguration pushed the Nigerien government to assume a pro-active stance towards the EU’s approach, resulting in a more relevant position in terms of legitimacy both at the regional and at the international level. In addition, cooperation has resulted in the reception of material incentives (financial and equipment). The geographic position of Niger sets the country as a central partner for EU’s strategy of migration containment. As a so-called ‘transit country’ for people on the move towards Libya and Algeria, the country has actively cooperated with the EU to adopt all the measures necessary to prevent northward border-crossing, punishing smuggling activities and provide suspected humanitarian intervention for migrants in need throughout repatriation. By the same token Niger joined the pledge to sustain the EU strategy for the externalization of the asylum procedures in close collaboration with UNHCR.

Niger’s vital importance for the EU external action and the emphasize on the country in the context of MOCADEM must also be understood on the backdrop of the deterioration of relations between France (and to a larger extent of the EU) and Mali resulting in the relocation of mission Barkhane and Takuba to Niger. By setting the stage for the next steps in the migration control realm, the MOCADEM document confirms once again the key-role of Niger for EU’s external action strategy in the Sahel.


Objectives of the MOCADEM Action File Niger

The specific objectives of the ‘action file Niger’ is in line with existing EU externalisation policies towards Niger. The document foresees eight actions fitting into four categories of intervention: Political and technical outreach, support measures for the protection of refugees and IDPs, support measures in the field of border management and fight against irregular migration through socio-economic support measures. The most important proposals will be discussed and contextualized in the following.


Asylum Externalization

One of the main issues discussed in the document is the need for a better coordination and a swift action on the topic of evacuations of stranded migrants from Libya.

As of May 2022 around 55,000 refugees and asylum-seekers have been registered by the UNHCR in Libya among these at least 4,700 persons of concern estimated to be held in dire conditions inside detention centres. Meanwhile, according to the UNHCR Niger ETM overview published in September 2021, Niger has received around 3300 refugees and asylum seekers from Libya through the UNHCR programme Emergency Tranist Mechanism (ETM), which was launched in 2017. However, evacuations have become extremely slow. On the one hand, this is partly due to COVID-19 pandemic and the lack of security in Libya. More importantly, the lack of coordination among EU’s member states and their refusal to accept ETM refugees has contributed to the slow-down of evacuations affected.

The slowdown of operations has also resulted in a protest of refugees and asylum seekers in Libya, which have targeted the UNHCR headquarter for months demanding fast relocation. The protestors have been met with violence on the hands of Libyan authorities and 600 people have been arrested. In early January 2020, a refugee-led protests erupted in Agadez over the false promise of relocation. As a result, 111 refugees were arrested and given suspended prison sentences by the Agadez court on Friday 21 February

Despite the constant deterioration of security conditions for migrants in Libya, Europe continues to finance migration management in the country. From 2017 to 2020 Europe has mobilised €408 million to support Libyan authorities in the realm of migration.

In order to improve Libya’s evacuation performances, the leaked MOCADEM document confirms EU support to UNHCR’s ETM through the financial support through the Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument (NDICI) and it foresees the transfer of 670 ETM evacuees from Niger to Europe.

Hence, the EU continues to marginally address the side-effects of its externalized border enforcement measures through humanitarian intervention.


‘Voluntary’ Returns

Likewise, the action file stresses the importance to identify areas of further support for Niger, notably in the framework of the EU-IOM Protection and Reintegration Initiative.

The implementation of the migration control framework in Niger has resulted in a huge number of migrants stranded in the country (mainly in the northern region of Agadez). Since 2016 the IOM has been in charge of carrying out so-called assisted voluntary returns and reintegration (AVRR) from Niger under the EU-IOM initiative. Financed by the European Union Trust Fund (EUTF) so-called AVRR a central element of the EU’s migration containment architecture in the Sahel.

The repatriation programme taking place in Niger raises several issues both on the operational and humanitarian level.

Many of the migrants benefiting from the programme are those expulsed from Algeria and Libya to the Nigerien territory. These expulsions are conducted as mass deportation in a general atmosphere of abuses and violence perpetrated by Algerian and Libyan authorities as many reports have shown. Deprived migrants have no choice but to accept assistance from IOM which is conditional upon accepting so-called AVRR. Between 2016 and 2019 nearly 50,000 migrants have been returned under AVRR programme in IOM transit centres making of Niger the country with the highest number of AVRR operations in the world (18,396 in 2018, 16,927 in 2019 and 9,069 in 2020).

Moreover, the legal framework regulating the expulsion lies into a grey zone: Nigerien and Algerian governments have signed an agreement which is limited to the repatriation of Nigerien nationals. For the rest of the deported, notably ECOWAS citizens, there is apparently no legal framework regulating the terms of the expulsions.


Border Control

Action 6 and Action 7 of the document address support measures in the field of border management and fight against irregular migration. In this regard the document contends the setting up of an anti-smuggling operational partnership (ASOP) involving actors already operating in this framework, namely the Joint Investigation Team [Equipe Conjointe d’Investigation], the Border Control Mobile Company [Compagnie Mobile de Contrôle de Frontière], EUCAP Sahel, and Frontex.

Leaning on the backing of EU member countries involved in the migration framework in Niger and the ever-present support of the IOM, the future launch of the ASOP aims to improve the sharing of relevant information with Europol throughout the Secure Information Exchange Network Application (SIENA) software (which is currently not running in Niger).

Second, the document plans to strengthen Frontex action in Niger through improving cooperation with the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) missions such as EUCAP-Sahel Niger and EUBAM Libya. The action file outlines the need to increase the role of Frontex aiming to coordinate consultations among Frontex liaison office, EU member states liaison officers and the Europol’s European Migrant Smuggling Centre on anti-smuggling and border control operations. Notably, Frontex’s mandate in Niger’s border management is foreseen to be widened despite the resignation of Executive Director Fabrice Leggeri due to allegations of harassment, misconduct and migrant pushbacks perpetrated over the last years by the agency.

Overall, despite border control operations movements towards Algeria and Libya have not stopped. On the contrary border control operations have resulted in more deaths in the desert and general widespread insecurity for the migrants. Drivers crossing the desert are forced to take unknown and dangerous routes in order to avoid border control authorities. Moreover, it is fair to say that since the implementation of anti-smuggling law in Niger (the infamous law 2015-36), we witnessed a transformation of smuggling trajectories.

Because of the legal risks this activity entails, mobility facilitation has become an appealing market for criminal networks, which have the capital and connections to still carry on the business despite controls. Today we assist to a rise of transport costs for migrants coupled with heightened levels of insecurity. In this sense, is the very same criminalization produced by migration management measures that manufactures the conditions which justify the application of border control operations.


Development Assistance

Finally, the document outlines to pursue development projects in the regions of Maradi, Niamey, Agadez and Zinder in order to foster employment in Niger through the financing of the NDICI (€50M). With the creation of the EUTF since 2015 the implementation of multifarious development projects as corollary to ‘EU’s third states’ effort in migration control. However, as stated by the leaked document establishing MOCADEM, development measures will be used the more and more as lever to induce cooperation by global-south states.

In sum this action document manifests once more EU’s prerogatives for the future paths of migration control. Notwithstanding recent past failures, the trend rest the same: externalising asylum procedures, pushing for AVRR, and enhancing third states border control, while increasingly making development aid conditionality on EU migration objectives. In this sense migration governance will still sharpen its features to the detriment global south mobility and the spread of vulnerability of people on the move.

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