Niger's ruling junta has signed a decree revoking a controversial 2015 law that was brought in to slow the smuggling of migrants travelling from African countries through a key migration route in the country en route to Europe, according to a government circular issued on Monday.
“The convictions pronounced pursuant to said law and their effects shall be cancelled,” Niger’s junta leader, Gen. Abdourahmane Tchiani, said in a November 25 decree, a copy of which was seen Monday by journalists.
All those convicted under the law would be considered for release by the Ministry of Justice, Ibrahim Jean Etienne, the secretary general of the justice ministry said in the circular.
Niger's Agadez region is a gateway from West Africa to the Sahara and has been an important route both for Africans attempting to reach Europe via Libya and the Mediterranean sea, as well as those who are returning home with help from the United Nations.
But the route's popularity means that it has also become lucrative for people smugglers.
The 2015 law, enacted by the Nigerien government working with the European Union, was aimed at stopping an estimated 4000 undocumented migrants per week.
The law empowered security forces and the courts to prosecute smugglers who faced up to five years in prison if convicted.
While the law transformed Niger into a migration hub housing thousands of migrants being returned to their countries, the U.N. human rights office has also noted that it “led migrants to seek increasingly dangerous migratory routes, leading to increased risks of human rights violations.”
The revocation of the law, which comes months after a coup on July 26 which toppled President Mohamed Bazoum, will only add to growing political tensions between the West African nation and EU countries.
Western and European countries imposed heavy sanctions on Niger in response to the coup, but instead of deterring the junta leaders, the sanctions have resulted in economic hardship for Nigeriens.