Airlines say they're no longer taking French nationals to Niger

Niger Airlines say they're no longer taking French nationals to Niger
FEB 2, 2024 LISTEN

French nationals will no longer be allowed to fly into Niger, airline sources said on Thursday, as the rift between Paris and Niamey deepens following last year's military coup.

"According to the Nigerien authorities, any passenger of French nationality is no longer authorised to enter Nigerien territory," said an internal Air Burkina note seen by AFP.

"As a consequence they will not be accepted aboard our flights" to the capital Niamey.

Royal Air Maroc has also decided to follow the new rule, except for "special authorisations", said a source close to the Moroccan carrier.

Numerous other airlines who fly to Niamey including Ethiopian Airlines, Air Tunisie and Turkish Airlines did not respond immediately when contacted by AFP.

Nigerien authorities would not confirm to AFP that the French had been declared persona non grata in the impoverished Sahel nation.

Several French nationals have already been refused entry upon arrival at Niamey airport recently.

Failing relations

Relations between Paris and Niamey have gone from bad to worse since a military coup last July 26 ousted Niger's elected president Mohamed Bazoum.

France shut its embassy in Niamey in December after ambassador Sylvain Itte was ordered to leave. The last French soldiers of 1,500 once deployed in Niger to fight jihadists withdrew on December 22.

On Monday, the European Union criticised Niger for refusing to allow entry to the head of its departing civilian crisis management mission in the country and demanded an explanation.

The Niamey authorities decided in December to order out the EU's two security and defence missions in the country, including EUCAP Sahel Mali, which had been operating there since 2012.

After herding out French forces, the military regime has been casting about for new allies and have moved closer to Russia, which has stepped in militarily and politically.

Insecurity woes

Niamey is battling two jihadist insurgencies – a spillover in its southeast from a long-running conflict in neighbouring Nigeria, and an offensive in the west by militants crossing from Mali and Burkina Faso.

The nation's military leaders, wrestling with high food prices and a scarcity of medicines under regional sanctions, have said they want up to three years before a return to civilian rule.

Niger has joined the military regimes in Burkina Faso and Mali in announcing their withdrawal from the West African bloc Ecowas.

In mid-December, coup leader General Abdourahamane Tiani said the security situation was "progressively normalising" after the army's "multiple successes" in quelling unrest.