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Turning the tide- The politics of irregular migration in the Sahel and Libya

This online report analyses the relationship between irregular migration and conflict and stability in Mali, Niger and Libya.

Studying the human smuggling networks that operate within and across these three countries provides insights into the transnational dynamics of irregular migration as well as these networks’ interaction with local, national and regional political and economic dynamics.

The main trans Saharan migration routes


The report’s main finding is that current EU policies are misaligned with the reality of trans-Saharan migration as they do not take into account the diversity of intra-African migration.

In addition, human smuggling networks form part of larger political economies and cannot be addressed effectively without taking into account the extent to which state authorities are involved in and/or capable of controlling irregular migration.

Failure to take these local realities into account results in ineffcient and ineffective policies at best, and counterproductively strengthens one of the root causes of migration at worst, because it overlooks the intricate links that exist between migration and conflict and stability in the region.

This report synthesises the findings of the following background studies:

- Irregular migration and human smuggling networks in Mali
- Irregular migration and human smuggling networks in Niger
- Understanding human smuggling networks in Libya


The Clingendael paper 'For the long run' provides a quick mapping of the crisis management and peace operations as well as the most relevant international and regional actors that deal or may deal with irregular migration-related issues in the Sahel-Lake Chad-Libya region.

1.The trans-Saharan migration route

EU policies

Intra-African migration: historical legacies and contemporary practices

Policy recommendation 1: understanding trans-Saharan migration

2.Dynamics of the trans‑Saharan migration route

3.The legal route – West Africa to Gao and Agadez

4.The co-opted route – northern Niger

5.The contested route – northern Mali and Libya

Conclusion and recommendations

Annex 1

Annex 2