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Niger passes law to stem human smuggling

NIAMEY, Niger (AP) — Niger has adopted a law that could see human smugglers facing up to 30 years in prison in an effort to stem the flow of illegal immigrants crossing its borders in hopes of getting to Europe.

The parliament adopted the law Monday, said National Assembly Secretary-General Boubacar Tiemogo on Wednesday.

A person could face 20 to 30 years in prison and a fine of up to 30 million CFA Francs ($51,000) if there are aggravating circumstances such as smuggling a pregnant woman or children, he said Wednesday. If a smuggler has helped migrants obtain illegal papers, they might face a prison sentence between five and 12 years, along with a fine of up to $5,000, he added.

Thousands of people trying to get to Europe in hopes of a better life are being smuggled through Niger on the way to Libya. Many die crossing the deserts, or by sea. More than 10,000 people have been plucked from the Mediterranean off Libya in the last month and 1,700 are feared dead.

Traffickers operate networks that provide all sorts of services to smuggle people across borders, including illegal papers for transport by land and sea.

“This does not prevent legal migrants from crossing Niger. Those who have legal papers for traveling can cross Niger,” said Zakari Oumarou, the deputy representative for the president’s party in parliament.

Justice Minister Marou Amadou said Monday after the law was passed it gives Niger the legal means to punish those profiting from smuggling, while protecting migrants’ rights. He also said it is meant to increase international cooperation.

The European Union is on Wednesday to unveil a plan to confront the challenges posed by the massive influx of migrants. According to a draft of the text obtained by The Associated Press, the EU wants to establish a pilot system in Niger to screen migrants, help provide local protection for them and work out resettlement opportunities for those in need. Deploying EU migration attaches to Libya’s neighbors and other African countries is among other proposals.

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