Alarmed by the flood of migrants - more than 1,800 of whom have perished in the Mediterranean this year - European governments are looking to Niger for action. But as Sonia Legg reports, widespread corruption fuels an illegal migrant industry in Niger which is worth tens of millions of dollars a year.
Niger is the poorest country on earth and that's a problem….for Europe. These men waiting a bus in the town of Niamey won't be buying a return ticket. They're heading to Agadez and then Libya and a boat across the Med. Niger is the main transit route for West African countries. (SOUNDBITE) (French) LAMINE BANDAOGO, 17-YEAR OLD BURKINABE MIGRANT ON HIS WAY TO LIBYA, SAYING: "Back home in Burkina Faso, all you can do is a little trade. And if you don't have any money you can't buy anything to sell. That's why we had to leave." Niger receives aid from the EU - it'll get at least 500 million euros between now and 2020 - and it's trying to clamp down. Its president passed an anti-migrant smuggling law last month with a prison term of up to 30 years. But enforcing it means overcoming endemic corruption in a country where a young police officer earns less than $200 a month. David Ousseni runs a migrant ghetto in Agadez. (SOUNDBITE) (French) DAVID OUSSENI, 34 YEAR OLD MIDDLE MAN, SAYING: "Nowadays paying is a must. The police sometimes search passengers to take their money." More than 100,000 migrants are expected to travel through Niger to Libya this year. It's become an industry and a vital part of the country's economy. One local anti-corruption agency says bribes keep security forces functioning - sometimes buying fuel and spares parts for official vehicles. Ousmane Baydo is their spokesman. (SOUNDBITE) (French) OUSMANE BAYDO, SPOKESMAN, NIGER HIGH AUTHORITY FOR THE FIGHT AGAINST CORRUPTION (HALCIA), SAYING: "Trafficking has been made easier at checkpoints because security forces are more preoccupied with taking money than worrying about the control aspect, which means smugglers do what they want." The other complication is visas - you don't need one to travel between 15 west African nations. And those heading to Libya say they're looking for work in gold mines near the border. There's also an issue of biting the hand that feeds you. Much of the region relies on remittances from migrants. In Senegal and Gambia they account for more than 10 percent of the economy.