How coups in Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso have further destabilized Africa’s Sahel belt

Special How coups in Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso have further destabilized Africa’s Sahel belt
The number of migrants trying to reach Europe from North Africa has surged since July’s coup in Niger. (AFP)
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Updated 06 October 2023
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How coups in Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso have further destabilized Africa’s Sahel belt

How coups in Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso have further destabilized Africa’s Sahel belt
  • Collapse of EU-Niger cooperation has caused a sharp rise in migrants crossing the Mediterranean
  • Latest deadly ambush of troops makes Niger look like the new soft underbelly of Sahel

TUNIS: North African states have seen an uptick in the number of migrants arriving and risking the perilous Mediterranean crossing to Southern Europe since a military coup in Niger severed cooperation between the West African nation and the EU.

Migration emanating from the Sahel, a belt of nations stretching from Mali in the west to Sudan in the east, has had major repercussions for Arab countries including Libya and Algeria, where gangs of smugglers are exploiting the crisis.

Following the coup in Niger in July, analysts say there has been a notable transformation in the latitude afforded people smugglers, who appear to be operating with a heightened sense of impunity in the region.

“Smugglers have found alternative routes and methods to cross into the country,” an expert on migration and illicit economies in North Africa and the Sahel told Arab News.




The EU had planned to allocate $200 million in assistance to Niger to address the country’s various security challenges. (AFP)

“The new Nigerien authorities seem to tolerate these bypass routes, enabling migrants to continue their journey to Algeria and Libya.”

The Nigerien crisis began in late July when the country’s presidential guard mounted a coup against President Mohamed Bazoum, replacing him with their own commander, Abdourahamane Tchiani.

Niger was swept up in a spate of military coups that began in 2020 and has since toppled governments in Mali and Burkina Faso. The takeovers were partly driven by frustrations among the military and citizens over lack of security in their countries. But violence has soared as the juntas kick out foreign troops that were previously helping to fight militants, and UN peacekeepers begin to leave.

All three countries are battling militants who have killed thousands and displaced more than 2 million people in the Sahel region. Despite signing a security pact last month promising to defend each other against rebels or aggressors, at least 29 Nigerien soldiers were recently killed in a reported ambush near the country’s border with Mali. According to one estimate, Daesh militants slaughered about 100 Nigerien soldiers in multiple attacks over five days.

Violent extremists, many with links to Al-Qaeda and Daesh, have grown particularly active in the “three-borders” area since French and UN troops departed from southeast Mali, ending vital air reconnaissance support.

Niger has long been used by migrants aiming to reach North Africa as a jumping off point for Europe. Bazoum’s government had been working with the EU to help control the flow of migrants, and with the UN to facilitate their return.




The Nigerien crisis began in late July when the country’s presidential guard mounted a coup against President Mohamed Bazoum. (AFP)

In exchange for its cooperation, the EU had planned to allocate $200 million in assistance to Niger to address the country’s various security challenges.

“Some migrants were moving through Niger due to its relatively open borders compared with neighboring countries, which had their own conflicts, mainly with terrorists,” Aneliese Bernard, an independent consultant working in the fields of stabilization and counterinsurgency in West Africa, told Arab News.

However, the EU’s decision to halt cooperation with Niger’s new rulers in the wake of the coup has raised fears over threats to regional security, uncontrolled migration flows, and the possibility of more drownings in the Mediterranean.

As stated already, there has been a sharp rise in the number of migrants crossing the Mediterranean, with more than 12,000 people arriving on the Italian island of Lampedusa in a single week.

With a population of approximately 6,000, Lampedusa’s local authorities have declared a state of emergency.

Italy’s Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen rushed to the island to discuss the migrant crisis, with Meloni calling for an EU mission to block boats carrying migrants across the Mediterranean.

Experts have questioned the effectiveness of the European approach to the migration challenge.

INNUMBERS

• 43% Increase in violent events in Niger during 2022. (Africa Center for Strategic Studies)

• 10m People in Niger, representing 41.8% of the population, living in extreme poverty in 2021.

• $2bn Official development assistance provided to Niger per year.

Source: World Bank

Mukesh Kapila, a senior humanitarian activist previously with the UN, who recently visited refugee camps in Greece, pointed out that many people migrate for economic reasons, and are not refugees as defined in the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.

Every economic migrant who is not deported from the EU blocks the space for an individual who genuinely qualifies for protection.

“This shows that the EU migration and asylum systems are overwhelmed,” Kapila told Arab News. “They are simply not working.”

“(Before the Niger coup) the same military leaders who grabbed the power had effectively implemented the EU’s anti-migration policy in Niger. Now, they might be abandoning it,” Kerem Schamberger, an expert on migration issues at the German human rights organization Medico International, told Arab News.

Moreover, there has been a discernible relaxation of restrictions at checkpoints for migrants en route to northern Niger. This stands in stark contrast with the pre-coup environment, where migrants encountered substantial obstacles and stringent controls.

Schamberger highlights the consequences of the anti-migration legislation, known as Law 36-2015, which made it illegal for migrants to travel from southern Niger to the north.




Supporters of Niger’s CNSP protest outside the Niger and French airbase in Niamey. (AFP)

“This law made migration routes through the Sahara Desert more perilous as migrants were forced to take dangerous routes through the desert without adequate protection, leading to a significant increase in deaths due to thirst and starvation.”

Beatrice Bianchi, a Sahel expert with the Italy-based Med-Or Leonardo Foundation, said that if the government of Niger were to repeal Law 36-2015, “it could have an immediate impact on migration cooperation with Europe.”

She told Arab News: “Repealing this law would likely lead to a resurgence of the original migration routes through (Niger’s) Agadez, potentially increasing the number of migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean.”

Niger’s pre-coup government was not a completely reliable partner, however.

While it played a central role in the EU anti-migration strategy in the West African region and received large sums of money as development aid, “there has been a significant disconnect between this funding and its actual impact on the ground, with people accusing the government of stealing those funds,” said Schamberger.

“In the eyes of many, the funds seemed to flow into the pockets of influential politicians, the military, and economic elites, rather than supporting the local economy or the people.”

And this is not the first time that allegations have emerged about EU funds, provided in exchange for help on the migration issue, being misused by recipient nations.

In 2019, The Associated Press news agency reported that EU funds given to Libya to stem migration were frequently stolen or misappropriated.

From 2016 to 2018, the EU allocated more than $200 million in funding to Sudan, resulting in migrants being forced to take increasingly dangerous routes out of the country, according to a 2018 report by the New Humanitarian.




General Abdourahamane Tiani speaks on national television in Niger after the ouster of President-elect Mohamed Bazoum. (Télé Sahel/AFP)

The UN’s International Organization for Migration, or IOM, says that border closures and airspace restrictions resulting from the coup have placed hundreds of thousands of migrants and displaced persons at risk.

The closure of land borders by Niger’s neighbors in response to the coup provided a temporary break in the flow of migration.

Despite these measures, Schamberger says “migration from Niger to Algeria and Libya never completely ceased, even with the anti-migration law in place.”

He added: “The routes through the Sahara, however, became increasingly dangerous for migrants while Algeria continued its policy of deporting migrants to Niger. This policy led to a growing number of migrants returning to the city of Agadez through the border crossing point of Assamaka, exacerbating the city’s already crowded conditions.”

Against this backdrop, the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, sought support from EU foreign ministers at an informal meeting in Toledo, Spain, at the end of August.

ECOWAS has reacted to the Niger coup by imposing sanctions on the junta leaders and threatening to use military force if they fail to restore constitutional order.

Support from European powers for ECOWAS appears unlikely, however, with France announcing that it will end its military presence in Niger by the end of 2023.




Niger junta’s supporters hold rally to demand the French army leave. (Reuters)

Following the reported deadly ambush of troops in Niger, the country is being viewed as the new soft underbelly of the Sahel region as well as a major impediment to the implementation of the EU’s migration strategy.

“The EU has been working toward preventing the small fraction of the overall big number of migrants from reaching its borders for the past eight to 10 years, while the majority of African migration is internal,” Franck Duvell, a senior researcher at the University of Osnabruck in Germany, told Arab News.

Diplomatic sources say the EU has been evaluating the establishment of a search-and-rescue area in Tunisian waters to enhance its ability to manage and coordinate rescue operations at sea.

Duvell added: “The cooperation with Tunisia and Niger reflects the EU’s broader strategy of externalizing migration controls beyond its borders.”


France accuses allies of ‘political positioning’ in recognizing Palestinian state

France accuses allies of ‘political positioning’ in recognizing Palestinian state
Updated 29 May 2024
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France accuses allies of ‘political positioning’ in recognizing Palestinian state

France accuses allies of ‘political positioning’ in recognizing Palestinian state
  • French President Emmanuel Macron said the same day he would be prepared to recognize a Palestinian state, but such a move should “come at a useful moment“
  • “France is not involved in any political positioning, it is looking for diplomatic solutions to this crisis,” Sejourne added

PARIS: France’s foreign minister Wednesday accused fellow EU members Spain and Ireland of having recognized Palestinian statehood as part of “political positioning,” instead of seeking a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Spain, Ireland and Norway on Tuesday officially recognized the State of Palestine, sparking a furious response from Israel.
French President Emmanuel Macron said the same day he would be prepared to recognize a Palestinian state, but such a move should “come at a useful moment” and not be based on “emotion.”
Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne told senators that France was “in favor of a two-state solution,” under which the states of Israel and Palestine would coexist in peace.
“By definition, the issue of recognition will of course come into that. But the concern now — which I have clearly shared with my Spanish and Irish counterparts — is what happens the day after recognition: How diplomatically useful is it?” he said.
“France is not involved in any political positioning, it is looking for diplomatic solutions to this crisis,” Sejourne added.
“It is unfortunate that a certain number of European states put political positioning first in the context of campaigning for the European elections, which does not solve anything.”
European Parliament elections are due to be held next week.
“Tell me, what exactly has the Spanish recognition changed a day later in Gaza? Nothing!” the foreign minister said.
The latest Gaza war was sparked by Palestinian militant group Hamas’s unprecedented October 7 attack on southern Israel, which resulted in the deaths of 1,189 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.
Militants also took 252 hostages, 121 of whom remain in Gaza, including 37 the Israeli army says are dead.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 36,171 people in Gaza, mostly civilians, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.
The Israeli military says 292 soldiers have been killed in the Gaza military campaign since the start of the ground offensive on October 27.


Nearly 3 out of 10 Afghan children face emergency levels of hunger in 2024— NGO 

Nearly 3 out of 10 Afghan children face emergency levels of hunger in 2024— NGO 
Updated 29 May 2024
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Nearly 3 out of 10 Afghan children face emergency levels of hunger in 2024— NGO 

Nearly 3 out of 10 Afghan children face emergency levels of hunger in 2024— NGO 
  • Estimated 2.9 million Afghan children under five years of age to suffer acute malnutrition in 2024, says Save The Children 
  • Afghanistan reels from immediate impacts of flood, long-term effects of drought and return of refugees from Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: About 6.5 million children in Afghanistan were forecast to experience crisis levels of hunger in 2024, a nongovernmental organization said.

Nearly three out of 10 Afghan children will face crisis or emergency levels of hunger this year as the country feels the immediate impacts of floods, the long-term effects of drought, and the return of Afghans from neighboring Pakistan and Iran, according to a report released late Tuesday by Save The Children.

New figures from global hunger monitoring body Integrated Food Security Phase Classification forecast that 28 percent of Afghanistan’s population, about 12.4 million people, will face acute food insecurity before October. Of those, nearly 2.4 million are predicted to experience emergency levels of hunger, which is one level above famine, according to Save the Children.

The figures show a slight improvement from the last report, released in October 2023, but underline the continuing need for assistance, with poverty affecting half of the population.

Torrential rain and flash floods hit northern Afghanistan in May, killing more than 400 people. Thousands of homes were destroyed or damaged and farmland was turned into mud.

Save the Children is operating a “clinic on wheels” in Baghlan province, which was hit the worst by floods, as part of its emergency response program. The organization added that an estimated 2.9 million children under the age of 5 are projected to suffer from acute malnutrition in 2024.

Arshad Malik, country director for Save the Children in Afghanistan, said that the NGO has treated more than 7,000 children for severe or acute malnutrition so far this year.

“Those numbers are a sign of the massive need for continuing support for families as they experience shock after shock,” Malik said. 

Children are feeling the devastating impacts of three years of drought, high levels of unemployment, and the return of more than 1.4 million Afghans from Pakistan and Iran, he added.

“We need long-term, community-based solutions to help families rebuild their lives,” Malik said.

More than 557,000 Afghans have returned from Pakistan since September 2023, after Pakistan began cracking down on foreigners it alleges are in the country illegally, including 1.7 million Afghans. It insists the campaign isn’t directed against Afghans specifically, but they make up most of the foreigners in the South Asian country.

In April, Save the Children said that a quarter-million Afghan children need education, food and homes after being forcibly returned from Pakistan.

Malik added that only 16 percent of funding for the 2024 humanitarian response plan has been met so far, but nearly half the population needs assistance.

“This is not the time for the world to look away,” he said.

Meanwhile, the European Union is allocating an additional 10 million euros (nearly $10.9 million) to the UN food agency for school feeding activities in Afghanistan. These latest funds from the EU follow an earlier contribution of 20.9 million euros ($22.7 million) toward the World Food Program’s school meal program in Afghanistan for 2022 and 2023.

The funding comes at a timely moment and averts WFP having to downsize its school meal program this year because of a lack of funding, the WFP said in a statement.

“Hunger can be a barrier to education. The additional EU funding to our long-standing partner WFP ensures that more children in Afghanistan receive nutritious food,” said Raffaella Iodice, chargé d’affaires of the EU’s delegation to Afghanistan.

The WFP’s statement said that the agency will be able to use the funding to distribute fortified biscuits or locally produced nutritious school snacks to pupils in more than 10,000 schools in the eight provinces of Farah, Ghor, Jawzjan, Nangarhar, Nuristan, Paktika, Uruzgan and Zabul.

Last year, WFP supported 1.5 million school-age children through this program.


Poland charges Ukrainian with ‘incitement to espionage’

Poland charges Ukrainian with ‘incitement to espionage’
Updated 29 May 2024
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Poland charges Ukrainian with ‘incitement to espionage’

Poland charges Ukrainian with ‘incitement to espionage’
  • The Ukrainian citizen, identified as Oleksandr D., was arrested in early March
  • He is suspected of having “encouraged a Polish citizen to participate in foreign intelligence activity against Poland“

WARSAW: Poland’s security services on Wednesday said a 26-year-old Ukrainian man had been charged with provocation and incitement to espionage against the NATO member.
In recent months Poland, a staunch Ukraine supporter, has seen several sabotage plots on its territory that it has blamed on neighboring Russia.
The Ukrainian citizen, identified as Oleksandr D., was arrested in early March and is suspected of having “encouraged a Polish citizen to participate in foreign intelligence activity against Poland,” security services spokesman Jacek Dobrzynski said in a statement.
“This activity was to consist of sharing photos of military vehicles that were intended for aiding Ukraine and which were crossing the border between Poland and Ukraine,” he added.
In exchange for information, the Polish man was to receive a payment of 15,000 euros ($16,000), Dobrzynski said, without specifying if he had accepted the offer.
Oleksandr D. was charged on Tuesday and faces at least eight years in prison if found guilty.
Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk has said previously that several attempts at diversion, sabotage and arson had been undertaken in Poland on behalf of Russia over the past few months.
These acts “were fortunately averted thanks to the vigilance of our services and allies,” Tusk said in mid-May.
He also said that Poland would reinforce its intelligence services amid the sabotage attempts and concerns over Russia.
A loyal ally of Kyiv’s, Poland is a main country through which Western nations are transferring weapons and munitions to Ukraine to help in the fight against Russia.


Volcano in Iceland erupts again

Volcano in Iceland erupts again
Updated 29 May 2024
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Volcano in Iceland erupts again

Volcano in Iceland erupts again
  • Authorities had warned of the risk of renewed volcanic activity in the area just south of the capital Reykjavik

COPENHAGEN: A volcano in southwestern Iceland erupted on Wednesday, live video from the area showed, making it the fifth outbreak since December.
The new outburst happened as another eruption on the Reykjanes peninsula recently ended after spewing fountains of molten rock for almost eight weeks.
Authorities had warned of the risk of renewed volcanic activity in the area just south of the capital Reykjavik as studies showed magma accumulated underground.
The fiery spectacle underlines the challenges the island nation of almost 400,000 people face as scientists have warned eruptions could happen over and over in Reykjanes for decades or even centuries.
The eruption was the eighth on the peninsula, home to some 30,000 people, since 2021 when geological systems that were dormant for some 800 years again became active.
Previous incidents had disrupted district heating, closed key roads and even razed several houses in the Grindavik fishing town, where only a few residents have since returned.
In an attempt to prevent further damage man-made barriers have been built to steer lava away from infrastructure including the Svartsengi geothermal power plant, the Blue Lagoon outdoor spa and Grindavik.
Icelanders often refer to their country as the “Land of Fire and Ice” as a tribute to its otherworldly landscape forged by glaciers and volcanoes which is positioned between the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates, making it a seismic hotbed.
While a 2010 eruption in a different part of Iceland grounded some 100,000 flights internationally due to huge ash clouds, Reykjanes is typically home to fissure outbreaks which do not reach into the stratosphere.


Philippines to develop halal travel offerings in top resort island

Philippines to develop halal travel offerings in top resort island
Updated 29 May 2024
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Philippines to develop halal travel offerings in top resort island

Philippines to develop halal travel offerings in top resort island
  • Known for its beaches and coral reefs, Boracay is one of the world’s most famous islands
  • Philippines wants to grow its Muslim-friendly and halal tourism portfolio, tourism secretary says

MANILA: The Philippines is developing halal-friendly options in its top resort island of Boracay to attract more Muslim visitors, Tourism Secretary Christina Frasco said on Wednesday.

Located in the province of Aklan, in the center of the Philippine archipelago, Boracay is known for its white sand beaches and coral reefs that make it one of the world’s most famous islands.

Tourism is a key sector for the Philippines, and its Department of Tourism has lately been trying to attract more Muslim visitors, particularly by ensuring that they have access to halal products and services.

“Muslim-friendly and halal tourism is a portfolio that we wish to grow,” Frasco told reporters.

“We are now in talks with a Boracay local government unit, as well as the Department of Tourism, to … offer halal-friendly tourism in Boracay.”

 

 

The predominantly Catholic Philippines — where Muslims constitute about 10 percent of the nearly 120 million population — welcomed more than 2 million international travelers since the beginning of the year and marked a 10 percent increase in visitors arriving from Gulf countries, including Saudi Arabia and the UAE, which have been among the Philippine government’s key emerging-market targets.

The Philippines was recognized with the Emerging Muslim-friendly Destination of the Year award in 2023 at the Halal in Travel Global Summit in Singapore. Since then, the Muslim market has been its priority.

Earlier this month, the Department of Tourism led a delegation to the Arabian Travel Market in Dubai, where it promoted the country’s best destinations.

“When we attended the Arabian Travel Market … we signed a memorandum of understanding with Megaworld such that all their properties will be converted into Muslim-friendly and halal-friendly tourism establishments,” Frasco said, referring to one of the largest Philippine hospitality chains.

“What we expect is really to be able to tap into this billion-dollar industry that is halal and Muslim-friendly tourism.”