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Middle East and Africa

The Sahel, a Forgotten Strategic Frontier

The sub-Saharan belt is a region that rarely hits the headlines but, for Europe, it constitutes a crucially important area for the issues of immigration and security

[This article is published in Oasis no. 24. To read all the contents buy a copy or subscribe] Libya, Tunisia, Egypt and Turkey are the countries on which European attention focuses when people talk of a migration emergency. The Sahel (i.e. all those countries in the sub-Saharan belt extending from the Red Sea towards the Atlantic, from Sudan to Mali) rarely makes news although economic and climatic factors, local conflict and jihadist terrorism create emergencies with which Europe will have to reckon in either the short or the long term. Indeed, the places from which or through which almost all the immigrants who have swollen the central Mediterranean flows in recent years have come or passed (Nigeria, Eritrea, Gambia, Guinea, Sudan, the Ivory Coast, Somalia, Senegal and Mali… ) are in this area. These migratory movements have their roots in the Sahel and it is into the towns and along the tracks of this region that one must go looking for the dynamics that underpin the trafficking of human beings in the direction of Europe. Over the last two years, the European Union has deployed a frenetic and “emergency” activism directed at halting the migrant flows towards Europe. To do that, it has undertaken a rapid succession of pressing negotiations with transit countries (Turkey, Niger and Sudan, amongst others) aimed at devolving management of the migrants onto them. So far, the agreements following these negotiations have not produced the desired effect, however: with the (perhaps temporary) exception of the EU-Turkey agreement, the arrivals have not halted and the departures are also continuing at a rapid pace. The figures speak for themselves. According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the persons registered as arriving in Europe via the Mediterranean routes between January and August 2016 numbered over 280,000; only a little less than those arriving the preceding, record year (350,000 in the first eight months). Of these, more than 160,000 disembarked in Greece and almost 120,000 in Italy, the very great majority of them coming from Libya. [This article is published in Oasis no. 24. To read all the contents buy a copy or subscribe]

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