The head of Niger's military regime has repealed a law criminalising the trafficking of migrants. The country is a hub for those seeking to reach Europe via neighbouring Libya and Algeria.
General Abdourahamane Tiani signed an order repealing the 2015 law relating to the illegal trafficking of migrants on Saturday, a government statement said.
This law was in "flagrant contradiction" with local rules and "did not take into account the interests of Niger and its citizens," Tiani said.
The order also says that convictions handed down under the 2015 law are to be erased.
Since the law came into force, surveillance has been stepped up in the desert in the northern Agadez region, a major transit point for thousands of West African nationals seeking to emigrate to Europe via Algeria or Libya, with financial support from the European Union.
Dozens of people working in illegal migration networks have consequently been arrested and imprisoned, and many vehicles used to transport migrants have been confiscated.
But migrants have instead taken alternative, more dangerous routes through the desert along new tracks with no water points or landmarks and no chance of being rescued if they get into trouble.
Many migrants from West Africa gather in Agadez, where networks of smugglers are based.
Some in the region have already welcomed the news, including smugglers.
Andre Chani, who used to earn thousands of dollars a month driving migrants through the desert before police impounded his trucks in 2016, told Reuters he plans to restart his "business" once he has the money.
""We are very happy," he said via text message from Agadez.
Among the media, many reacted positively, notably the daily newspaper L'Événement, which denounced the law as a form of “externalisation of European borders”.
The Regional Council of Agadez also welcomed the decision, as a good move for the local economy, linked to travels in and around the city.
Local expert Azizou Chehou, president of the group Nigerien Youth for Sustainable Development, told RFI that the influx of travellers around Agadez brought work to young Nigeriens and made the area "safer".
However the European Commission said on Tuesday it is "very concerned" by the repeal of this law.
The military regime has distanced itself from Niger's close European partners, notably France. Instead, it has drawn closer to its nearest neighbours, Mali and Burkina Faso, which are also run by military juntas.
Western and European countries have since suspended aid to Niger for health, security and infrastructure.
Niger, as one of the least industrialised nations in the world, relies heavily on foreign support.
The sanctions have resulted in economic hardship for Nigeriens and emboldened the junta, which has set up a transitional government that could remain in power for up to three years.