MEP Zovko on official visit to Niger
Niger/Niamey, 2 December 2017 – Member of the European Parliament Željana Zovko visited Niamey and Agadez from 18 to 21 December as a member of the delegation of the Committee of Foreign Affairs (AFET) of the European Parliament and the Subcommittee on Security and Defence (SEDE).
The delegation was led by the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, David McAllister (EPP, DE). Other members of the delegation, besides MEP Zovko, were Tonino Picula (S&D, HR), Arnaud Danjean (EPP, FR) and Javier Nart (ALDE, ES).
The five-member EP delegation discussed the challenges of Niger and of the Sahel region with the authorities of Niger, the EU Mission to train and support the security forces of the country (EUCAP Sahel Niger) and various armed forces fighting terrorism and trafficking in the region (Joint Force G5 Sahel and French operation Barkhane). The region is indeed marred by trafficking (drugs, weapons or migrants), often interconnected. The region is also seriously affected by terrorism, on top of chronic poverty, desertification and a fast growing population
Members commended the role of Niger in supporting international efforts on all these fronts despite scarce resources and described the country as an island of stability in the region. Niger is key in supporting the EU’s policy against trafficking and illegal migration. Ministers and Members of the National Assembly explained the recently adopted restrictive legislation on illegal migration as well as the problems it could create with neighbouring ECOWAS countries. Free movement of people is guaranteed within ECOWAS and other Member States may, and did, retaliate if their citizens were prevented to enter Niger. They also recalled that migration in the region is a traditional practice and that Niger has always been at crossroads between North and Sub-Saharan Africa, Western and Central Africa.
In Agadez which has often been described as the “gate to Europe”, Members met with local authorities and former traffickers who accepted the reconversion plan founded by the EU. They also visited an IOM centre where migrants are helped to go back to their countries of origin. They heard extremely moving testimonies from people coming back from Libya and Algeria.
The Nigerian authorities in Niamey, as in Agadez, expressed their satisfaction of the EU’s support to the country while reminding that both immediate measures and longer term development policy would help tackling the various challenges faced by the country.
Besides receiving development aid, Niger hosts since 2013 a civilian CSDP mission – EUCAP Sahel – which offers training to the security forces. The EU and some of its Member States finance the newly created Joint Force G5 Sahel, a transnational force to secure the borders of the five countries (Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad and Burkina Faso). Members finally visited an air base of the French Barkhane operation. The operation supports national armies in fighting terrorism, be it Islamist or Boko Haram, and trains the military staff of the Joint Force G5.
Members were satisfied to hear that coordination between local and international stakeholders, as well as between civilian and military actors, is functioning well in Niger and in the Sahel.