Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni, has announced the deployment of 470 soldiers to Niger, to “increase the operational capacity of the Niger forces” to stem the flow of West African migrants to Europe.
“We are going to Niger to respond to a request from the local government, received at the beginning of December, for an Italian contribution to do what we normally do in these countries, such as in Libya: strengthen the instruments of territorial control and borders and strengthen local police forces,” Gentiloni told a press conference.
Niger represents “the main transit country” for tens of thousands of migrants who arrive in Libya and then try to reach the Italian coasts and Europe, he said.
“If we make our contribution to strengthening this country, we are doing something sacrosanct for national interests,” said Gentiloni, also highlighting the proliferation of jihadist groups in the Sahel.
In addition, “Niger is a country perhaps more willing than others to cooperate in the field of migration, because it is a transit country”, whose economy does not depend on money sent by its citizens abroad, said Gentiloni.
According to Reuters the 470 soldiers will be mostly come Italian forces currently in Iraq, where operations are winding down due to the defeat of ISIL in the country.
A first contingent of fewer than 200 people will arrive in Niger in 2018, to be joined later in the year by the remainder of the forces who will be equipped with 130 land vehicles and two aircraft.
Italy also recently announced that by the end of 2018, it plans to have accepted 10,000 asylum seekers currently in Libya via an “air humanitarian corridor.” The new arrivals will be welcomed in Italy but could also sent to other European countries willing to take them in.