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Niger coup risks jump in EU immigration, commissioner says

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Last year's coup in Niger could bring about a surge in irregular arrivals to the European Union, Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson said on Tuesday, the eve of a key vote on overhauling the bloc's migration rules ahead of a June election.

The European Union's Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson speaks during a conference in the Migration Ministry in Athens, Greece, January 8, 2024. Reuters/Louisa Gouliamaki

Last year's coup in Niger could bring about a surge in irregular arrivals to the European Union, Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson said on Tuesday, the eve of a key vote on overhauling the bloc's migration rules ahead of a June election.

The military junta that seized power in Niamey in a 2023 coup has since revoked a law that had helped reduce the flow of West Africans to Europe. The EU is seeking closer cooperation with African states to reduce unwanted immigration.

"The coup in Niger concerns me a lot ... That could, of course, lead to a lot of new migrants coming in a very difficult and dangerous situation," Johansson told reporters.

More than 45,500 people have entered the EU so far this year outside of regular border crossings, U.N. data showed. Such arrivals are way below the 2015 peak when more than a million people, mostly Syrian refugees, reached the bloc.

The 27-nation EU has since been pushing to reduce irregular immigration from the Middle East and Africa by tightening borders and restricting its asylum laws as anti-immigration rhetoric rose across the continent.

Under pressure from far-right parties expected to gain ground in a European Parliament election in two months, the EU cast a new migration pact sealed late last year as a breakthrough to handle migration better.

The European Parliament will hold a final vote on Wednesday on that package, which shortens times for screening and asylum procedures, seeks to streamline returns as well as laying out aid available to member states under pressure.

If approved, it would be rubber-stamped in the coming days by member states that would then have two years to implement it.

Johansson expected the vote to pass. But 161 civil society organisations called on Tuesday for the pact's rejection, which they said abused fundamental rights - including by allowing detention of children - and was "a huge leap in the wrong direction".

"The decision will impact children fleeing conflict, hunger and death for decades. It is imperative the EU gets it right," said Federica Toscano from Save the Children Europe.

Migration expert Alberto-Horst Neidhardt, with the European Policy Centre think-tank, described the pact as a "difficult" compromise and warned against expecting quick solutions to the complex challenges posed by migration.

"There is a question about the possible risk of over-inflated expectations about what will change on the ground after the measures will be voted," he said.

By Nette Noestlinger

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