Up to 4 000 migrants without travel papers can pass through Agadez every week, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). A spike in the numbers of immigrants attempting the dangerous sea crossing from Libya has sparked alarm in Europe, particularly after some 800 people drowned after a Mediterranean shipwreck last month.
Authorities in Niger promised a crackdown after at least 92 migrants from Niger died of hunger and thirst in the desert in October 2013 after being abandoned by traffickers who were taking them to Algeria. In an effort to prevent migrants without papers from being brutalised by security forces, the law emphasised that smuggled persons were victims of human rights abuses.
The desolate, empty spaces of the Sahara in northern Niger and neighbouring Mali are home to drug and arms traffickers, people-smugglers and armed Islamist militant groups, some of them linked to al-Qaeda.