Niger: Europe’s New Southern Border
by Alessandro Penso / MAPS
Photographer Alessandro Penso provides unflinching insights into the reality of refugees in Niger – which, throughout history, has been the land of the “passeur” – “ferrymen” – who transport people through its territory.
Nigerians have always crossed the Sahara, which connects West and North Africa, and so Niger has been a country of the “passeur,” or “ferrymen,” who transport people through its territory. It also now hosts some 300,000 refugees and displaced people from neighboring countries who have fled repeated terror attacks.
Since the end of the Gadhafi era, Niger has seen an increase in the number of migrants trying to reach Europe. An estimated 90 percent of those headed for Libya and Europe from West Africa pass through Niger. The country has become Europe’s de facto southern border.
But things are changing. Law 36 has made it illegal for migrants to travel from the central city of Agadez toward the country’s northern border, in a move that also makes the work of the “ferrymen” illegal. This has cut a large slice out of the country’s economy, but has driven the EU to make Niger the bloc’s highest recipient of funds per capita.
The EU plan is to turn Niger into an example for transit countries, by transforming it into a place of temporary relocation for certain migrants who were in Libya. But the program is struggling to take off: Only around 175 refugees have been resettled on the continent.
Penso studied clinical psychology at Rome’s La Sapienza University. In 2007, he received a scholarship to study photojournalism at the “Scuola Romana di Fotografia”.
Alessandro is deeply committed to social issues, and in recent years he has been focusing on immigration in the Mediterranean. During this time, he has produced work on detention centres in Malta, the situation of migrant workers in the south of Italy, and young people stuck in limbo in Greece.