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Niger’s Junta Repeals Anti-Migration Law

The military administration of Niger repealed an unpopular anti-migration law on Monday that had helped to lower the number of West Africans traveling to Europe, but was opposed by desert residents whose businesses had long depended on the migrants.

Amid a humanitarian and political crisis in Europe, when governments were under pressure to halt migration, Niger’s former government had approved the law prohibiting the transportation of migrants through Niger in May 2015. Migrants had been traveling at record numbers across the Mediterranean from Africa.

The legislation was repealed on Saturday and declared official on Monday night on national television by the Niger government, which seized power in a coup in July this year.

Convictions rendered in accordance with the 2015 law will be “erased,” according to the new decree.

Reevaluating its connections with erstwhile Western partners who denounced the coup, the government is trying to garner support domestically, especially in the northern desert towns that had reaped the most benefits from migration.

The law reduced the flow of migrants through Niger, a major transit nation on the southern edge of the Sahara Desert, dramatically over time, but the shift devastated the towns and villages that had provided food and shelter to migrants as well as sold fuel and auto parts to traffickers.

To address the underlying causes of migration, the European Union established a 5 billion euro ($5.5 billion) Trust Fund for Africa in 2015 as payment, but many believed this was insufficient. Places like the historic city of Agadez, a well-known entry point to the Sahara, saw skyrocketing unemployment.

Numerous cars used to transport migrants have been seized, and dozens of persons involved in illegal movement networks have been detained and imprisoned.

Nevertheless, migrants have been using new, riskier routes through the desert that lack landmarks or water sources, making it impossible for them to be rescued in the event of an emergency.