Niger Needs $1 Billion From Europe to Tackle Migration: Minister

Refugees in Niger camp.
People look for drinking water in the Assaga refugee camp in southeast Niger, September 16, 2015. The camp was established by the U.N. to host Nigerians fleeing from violence perpetrated by Boko Haram. BOUREIMA HAMA/AFP/Getty Images

Niger says it needs 1 billion euros ($1.15 billion) in funding to stem the flow of hundreds of thousands of West African migrants en route to Europe.

The West African country—ranked by the United Nations as having the worst living conditions in the world—is part of a major transit route for African migrants seeking to cross the Mediterranean and enter Europe. Between 120,000 and 150,000 migrants and refugees will pass through Niger in 2016, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), most of whom will come from other West African states and travel onwards to Algeria and Libya, from where many will attempt the perilous sea crossing into Europe. Almost 29,000 migrants and refugees have arrived in Europe by crossing the Mediterranean in 2016, with people from Nigeria, Gambia and Senegal making up the highest proportions.

"Niger needs a billion euros to fight against clandestine migration," said the country's Foreign Minister Ibrahim Yacoubou at a press conference on Tuesday, Reuters reported. Yacoubou was speaking alongside the French and German foreign ministers, Jean-Marc Ayrault and Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who were visiting Niger to discuss several issues including migration and extremism. "We've solicited the help of the European Union, France and Germany. We want to protect legal migration against clandestine migration," said Yacoubou.

FM #Steinmeier meets with President #Mahamadou during the first ever visit of a German Foreign Minister to #Niger.

— GermanForeignOffice (@GermanyDiplo) May 3, 2016

More than 33,000 migrants and refugees have been recorded as leaving Niger since February, according to the IOM's latest weekly report on migration trends in the country. Some 13,000 have been recorded as entering Niger during the same period, many of whom are likely to be in transit to another country. An IOM office was established in Agadez, central Niger, in April, with funding from the EU and the U.K., in order to provide information and counselling to migrants leaving and returning to Niger.

Niger, a vast and arid country in the center of Africa's Sahel region, borders Libya to the north, Mali to the west and Nigeria to the south. All three countries are struggling to contain radical militant groups—Boko Haram in Nigeria, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb in Mali and a number of extremist groups, including an affiliate of the Islamic State militant group (ISIS), in Libya. Niger's President Mahamadou Issoufou has made tackling the Boko Haram threat in particular a key priority, contributing troops to a multinational regional task force aimed at ending the Nigerian group's insurgency.

French minister Ayrault said that he was struck by "the energy Niger has deployed in the fight against terrorism and migration" during the European ministers' visit, which also included a stay in Mali. The European Union signed off on 1.15 billion euros ($1.32 billion) in funding for the West African region as a whole in July 2015, part of which was supposed to go towards tackling migration and which is supposed to run until 2020.