AFIC 2017


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As in the past few years, migratory movements from the ECOWAS region towards the EU and the growing insecurity in parts of the Sahel region have dominated the agenda of policy-makers in Europe and Africa throughout 2017.

Central Mediterranean

The Central Mediterranean remained the main entry route to the EU, as approximately 93% of illegal border-crossings reported at the EU’s external borders in the first nine months of 2017 were registered on this route.

However, the irregular migration flow started to slow down starting from mid-July 2017 and the decreasing trend continued until the end of September, when only about 5 600 arrivals were reported. This represents a significant decrease compared with the same period of the previous year when the number of arrivals totalled approximately 12 600. Importantly, the decreasing number of departures translated into a marked decrease in reported fatalities.

While this downward trend mainly resulted from the developments reported from the main departure areas in Libya and its territorial waters, the flow of migrants transiting Niger has also been curbed over the course of 2017. This was directly associated with a wide set of law-enforcement measures implemented by Niger whose aim is to control irregular migration of ECOWAS migrants going into Libya or Algeria without valid documentation.

However, some bus companies operating connections between the main transit hubs in Niger (and Mali) have adapted to these measures, in some cases offering dedicated services for migrants who do not possess proper documentation.

For instance, some bus drivers drop undocumented migrants off on one side of the border or before reaching a known check point, directing them to private vehicles which bypass these points, before picking them up again on the other side.

In order to stop this practice, the authorities in Niger informed the main bus companies that bus drivers agreeing to do that would be facing prosecution for facilitating irregular migration. Bus companies will also be held liable in such cases.

Western Mediterranean

The situation on the Western Mediterranean route was quite different: a sharp increase of over 120% in the number of illegal border-crossings compared with the same period in 2016 was reported by Spain. The increase was most marked in the period June-July 2017 and was mainly associated with the arrival of large groups of Moroccan migrants aboard high-capacity boats capable of transferring large numbers of migrants.

It is worth mentioning that the migratory pressure on this route is even higher than the statistics indicate given that the Moroccan authorities prevented several thousand people from crossing the sea toward the southern coast of Spain. In other words, if it was not for patrolling activities of the Moroccan police and a high level of cooperation between Spain and Morocco, many more people would be successfully reaching Spain with the use of illegal means.

Limited availability of legal travel channels

In response to the 2015 migration crisis, the European Commission proposed to develop a new legal-migration policy[1].

However, the 2016 visa issuing policies of EU Member States (excluding the United Kingdom and Ireland) in relation to the nationals from the African continent in general and West Africa in particular show an opposite trend when compared with the stated goal of ‘attracting more visitors’.

More precisely, West Africa is the region with the highest visa rejection rates in the world. Moreover, while in 2015 the overall rejection rate for airport transit visas (type A) and short-term visas (type C) stood at 32%, this number rose to 35% in 2016. By contrast, the overall EU average rejection rate for citizens of all non-EU countries was at the level of 8% in 2016.

Typical migrant smugglers

Migrant smuggling along the routes leading through Niger and Libya tends to be carried out by two types of smugglers. The first, and most prolific, are those that specialise exclusively in the transport of people in Toyota pickup trucks. As a rule, these smugglers belong to the Toubou tribe (in particular those who inhabit southern Libya, rather than Niger and Chad) and are involved in the entire trip from Agadez to Sebha in Libya.

The other type of smugglers transporting people along this corridor are the ones engaged in dual-smuggling operations: smuggling both people and goods. They are primarily truck drivers who supplement their income by offering migrants a ride on top of the goods or in the cab of the truck. For the most part, these drivers are Arabs from Libya who belong to the Gaddafa, Warfalla and Magarha tribes; some of them also have homes and families in Niger. The Magarha in particular are involved in smuggling people along the route from Sebha in Libya to the coast of that country.

Nigerian traffickers in human beings

The process of trafficking Nigerian (mostly female) victims into the EU depends on the nature and structure of the criminal network. Nigerian trafficking networks are usually made up of cellular structures, highly reliant on extensive networks of personal contacts in the EU.

The networks comprise a large number of members, each responsible for a particular stage of the trafficking process (i.e. recruitment, travel documents procurement, transportation, victims’ supervision in the destination country).

Growing insecurity in some parts of the Sahel

The number of fatalities recorded in Mali rose dramatically after May 2017. In June

2017 alone, a total of 185 casualties were reported, compared with an average of only 74 per month recorded between January and May 2017.

The security situation in northern Burkina Faso has been deteriorating rapidly since January 2017. Targeted killings, assassination attempts, attacks on schools, western targets and complex attacks against military and police forces have been reported.

Strengthening of the AFIC

While the authorities of AFIC partner countries have demonstrated willingness to enhance border security and mitigate cross-border crime risks (see Chapter 11), there are still many capacity issues that need to be addressed.

In response, Frontex, supported by the European Commission, is launching a three-year capacity-building project with an overall objective of contributing to the reduction in illegal immigration attributable to migrant smuggling, and strengthening regional cooperation between AFIC partner countries.