File photo of a refugee family evacuated from Libya to Niger by the United Nations refugee agency. Photo: Sia Kambou/AFP
In ministerial-level talks, they agreed to “attack underlying causes of irregular migration,” according to a joint statement.
“The economic problem… is also the basis for the migration phenomenon,” Niger Interior Minister Mohamed Bazoum said.
The countries also vowed to strengthen national laws to prosecute traffickers and improve coordination among police and judiciary in fighting human smuggling.
The one-day “conference on coordination of the struggle against traffickers of migrants” took place against a backdrop of renewed concern in Europe over illicit migration, three years after a massive human influx led to a rise in xenophobia and far-right populism in several EU states.
It was attended by ministers from Burkina Faso, Chad, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Senegal, with representatives from France, Germany, Italy and Spain, the European Union and United Nations.
The communique called for “developing the conditions for an economy to emerge that is an alternative to the underground economy of illicit trafficking of migrants.” To achieve this requires “an overall approach, with solidarity,” it said.
Reflecting the issue's priority, France sent two senior ministers — Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and Interior Minister Gerard Collomb, who urged participants to take action “as close as possible to the countries of origin.”
Niger, one of the large nations lying south of the Sahara in West Africa, has become one of the main routes for African migrants heading north to the Mediterranean coast in the hope of crossing to Europe.
Collomb said because of a series of preventive measures taken by Niger, the number of Europe-bound migrants passing through the country had “dropped drastically” from 330,000 in 2016 to 70,000 last year.
“If all the countries put such measures in place we can reduce the number of arrivals in Europe,” he said.
Two Africa-EU summits in 2017 put the focus on training police and paramilitary gendarmerie forces, help with conducting border checks and the creation of identity databases.
Europe's part in taking on irregular migration in Africa gained force with “migratory pacts” signed in 2015 in Valetta, capital of Malta, which built on previous accords to reach a global approach dating back to 2006.
One of the challenges, in the eyes of French delegates, is to persuade African countries to agree more readily to provide documents enabling the return of their nationals who lack the required papers.
The French parliament is due in coming months to debate a government bill on immigration, which has already made waves among some supporters of the government who consider the new measure too severe.