An eight-year-old law criminalising migrant smuggling in Niger has been repealed by the leaders of a junta that took power in a coup in July.

The BBC reports that the legislation allowed authorities to take action against smugglers who transported migrants through Niger’s vast desert on to Libya and Europe.

This changed when President Mohamed Bazoum, who had worked with the EU to stem the flow of people across the Mediterranean, was overthrown in a coup.

The ruling junta, under self-declared head of state General Abdourahmane Tchiani, announced the repeal in a statement that said law ‘did not take into account the interests of Niger and its citizens’.

According to the BBC, the move is an indication that the junta in Niger’s capital Niamey plans to assert its authority over the country’s sovereignty, in defiance of international pressure. The repeal is seen as a huge blow to the EU’s strategy for managing migration flows from Africa.

In 2015, more than a million asylum seekers and migrants tried to reach Europe, prompting the push for Niger to pass the now-overturned law.

The BBC reports that traffickers have long bemoaned the implementation of the 2015 ban.

In 2019, one trafficker, Bachir Amma, was quoted as saying: ‘If the law was eased, I would go back to people trafficking, that’s for sure. It earned me as much as $6 000 a week, far more money than anything I can do now.’

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