23 March 2018
Category : Interview
Abdou Salam Moumouni is a police commissioner and head of the Special Investigations Division in Niger and was talking to us about people trafficking.
The Commissioner is responsible for the fight against people trafficking and the illegal smuggling of immigrants and fake documentation into his country. He is working on the Niger JIT Project with his Spanish and French counterparts. The project, which will last three years, is funded by the European Union and managed by FIIAPP.
What is the experience of working on and being part of the Niger Joint Investigation Team (Niger JIT) like?
Being a member of the JIT is a pleasure for me due to my multicultural and multidisciplinary background. Contact with other nationalities, such as the French and Spanish, has enriched us and given us experience by providing new ideas and new ways and methods of working on investigations. At the personal level, the cultural exchange has also been very positive, both for me and for those who are enjoying the experience.
In Europe there is a lot of discussion about migration and at times the points of view and policies of African countries are not taken into account. What are the views of the Republic of Niger?
At that level, I can make two important references to legislation referring to the fight against people trafficking in Niger. One is an Ordinance that dates from 2010, and the other a law from 2015 that organises the suppression of people trafficking and smuggling. These two Nigerien texts are really more protective than suppressive because, in addition to suppression, they include protection for and coverage of the victims.
It must be understood that there are ideas that reach the West, especially Europe, that make people think that Niger is a country that has absolutely no respect for human rights and the illegal trafficking of migrants. I think that it is quite the contrary, because, if we compare European legislation to Nigerien legislation, I think that we are more advanced in regard to coverage for the migrants who are the victims of trafficking or smuggling.
The people whom we are looking for in our investigations and seek to suppress are not the migrants but the “passeurs”.
Who are the passers?
They are the people who plan the journeys of the migrants… and they are exposed to mistreatment and even prostitution. It is not easy to uncover these cases, especially when the migrants do not see themselves as victims and do not cooperate with the organisation in any way. They consent to be the victims of this offence. We are working to fight against these phenomena, by always protecting the migrants against the passers. These passers are sentenced to terms of imprisonment that are sometimes 15 to 20 years.
When they are arrested, the passers go into preventive detention. In the case of the migrants, they are questioned about their situation and put into administrative detention if they are found to be in an irregular situation. They are treated in the most appropriate way possible so that they are cared for: their food and some basic needs are covered. Also, they are given access to their families or consulates and the media if they demand this. They receive visits and medical care and later on they are normally turned over to international organisations like the International Office for Migration (IOM) for voluntary return to their country of origin.
In the case of asylum seekers, we have what we call the Directorate General of Migration, which is part of the Ministry of the Interior. We send them directly from the Directorate of Territorial Surveillance (DST), through the International Office for Migration (IOM) or ACNUR, the UN High Commission for Refugees, so that they are taken care of and, if their application is justified, the State of Niger normally grants them asylum without any difficulty.
Migrants sometimes do not know that they are part of a people trafficking network and they do not know that there is someone earning a lot of money from their suffering. Do you know of any cases?
That is a difficult question, because there can be several answers. There are those who know that they are risking their lives, their dignity, their fortunes, and there are those who do not.
In regard to the initial exploitation by passers, who profit from moving migrants, I can give you an example of a route between Burkina Faso and Niamey. Transport costs at most 5,000 CFA francs, which is less than 5 euros, but the migrants are willing to pay over 100 euros to travel this route. They know that it is cheaper, but the passers convince them that, if they take the official route through the police, with the cases of expulsion that occur these days, they will be expelled. So, the idea has spread but it is better to trust the passers than the police.
For those who are more aware of what might happen to them, the end justifies the means. Some know that they are running a risk, but as there is a lack of job creation programmes, for example, they think it is better to die than stay at home doing nothing. Some do not know exactly what to expect because the passers make them believe that they are going to Paradise, that when they get to Europe there will be jobs waiting for them, that there are many vacancies just waiting for their arrival to be filled.
In the case of those who are victims of trafficking, very often they do consent to it,for example, in the case of prostitution. There are some people who know that they’re going to have to be prostitutes but, sometimes, they were already obliged to do so in their own countries because they had no alternative.
What do Nigeriens think of what is happening with migration and all the measures that are being implemented to prevent people from dying in the desert?
When you say “Nigeriens”, public opinion in Niger includes those who are in the migrant trafficking business. Those who are in the business think that, to date, the state has done them considerable harm, since it has hampered their activities through repression and awareness raising. There are many who want to give up trafficking but they think that they have not found a social alternative for it.
To know what public opinion in Niger is like, the answer is clear: if we look at the statistics there are very few Nigerians who are candidates for clandestine migration. However, there are many who ask why there are so many immigrants from CEDEAO countries in this type of situation, who even die in the desert. In these cases, for Nigeriens this situation has no justification.
For the passers, however, it is justified because for them the arrival of migrants in Niger is a business, and stopping it is a blow to them. It’s logical, they are like a mafia.
What are the measures that you think could prevent these people from making the decision to use this irregular system of migration?
In the first place, the suppression machine is grinding; it’s what we do every day all over the country.
The awareness-raising machine is also grinding but it’s necessary to continue raising awareness by telling people that they must find a job and not let themselves be killed or die in the desert or be exploited by passers. But specific development programmes are needed to create the greatest number of jobs possible for these people, for their individual fulfilment and social inclusion and to implement measures to prevent them from emigrating.
In this sense, there are many European companies that are suffering and that can come and invest in Africa: Africa needs them. There are raw materials and skilled manpower on the African continent. There needs to be support for the African countries, thorough investment in the industrial sector, agriculture and training to prevent much of this voluntary emigration, as there are many graduates among the migrants to Europe.
If an emigrant is, for example, an engineer, he is going to work in Europe in a job that is often far below his qualifications. If suitable conditions existed in Africa, I think that people of this kind would not migrate.
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