Despite the limitations imposed by the COVID-19 crisis, the ECÍ-NÍGER project continues its activities in the fight against human trafficking
Due to the current pandemic, on 17 March Niger decreed the closure of its borders and a state of alarm has been in effect since 27 March. Despite these circumstances, the ECI-NÍGER project team (Joint Investigation Team to Combat Criminal Networks Linked to Smuggling and Human Trafficking) remains on the ground offering its support and services to the Nigerian police.
Although travel is not allowed, this limitation has not affected the law enforcement agencies in the African country, thus allowing the European project and its team to continue with their work despite the obvious difficulties in the current context.
Now, more than ever, it is necessary to continue with the activities of this European Union-financed project, in order to achieve its objective related to human trafficking, since the current situation means that this crime is continuing or even on the increase.
Prior to their closure, nationals belonging to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) could cross the region’s borders normally as long as they had the appropriate documentation. Due to the closure of borders to combat the pandemic, this is currently only carried out by people smugglers, generating a business that is even more lucrative than the one that existed until now.
The specialists involved in the project, which is being managed by FIIAPP, belong to the Spanish and French National Police and they have been working alongside their Nigerian counterparts since the beginning of the coronavirus crisis to collaborate on important operations, including dismantling criminal networks dedicated to migrant smuggling.
Among the operations carried out, two in Agadez are worth special mention. In one, a traffickings network, that had transported a group of Nigerian and Burkinabé migrants, was dismantled. They also allegedly extorted money from the migrants, who reported their situation to the police authorities. The other has partially dismantled a criminal group that was trafficking immigrants to Libya. In addition, the ECI-NÍGER project is continuing with other investigations in Tahoua, Zinder and Niamey.