Niger has arrested a Libyan suspected of smuggling thousands of migrants through the Sahel country toward Europe after a joint probe with the French and Spanish authorities, French police said on Friday.
The 29-year-old, who was detained on Dec. 20 in the Nigerien city of Agadez, told investigators he had overseen the departure of “60 migrants per week for seven years,” said Jean-Christophe Hilaire of the International Security Cooperation Directorate at the French Interior Ministry.
Pickup trucks had driven the migrants — most from Nigeria or Cameroon — to the border with Algeria or war-torn Libya for a fee of €1,500 to €2,000 ($1,600 to 2,100), he said.
The suspect is now being held in the capital Niamey, Hilaire said.
The EU-funded operation had been carried out with the help of three French and three Spanish policemen.
Many West African migrants try to reach Libya in the hope of making it across the Mediterranean to a better life in Europe.
They typically flock to the Nigerien city of Agadez, where smugglers offer to take them onwards to the Libyan border.
The government in Niamey adopted a law in 2015 to make migrant smuggling a crime, with sentences of up to 30 years in prison.
But a Nigerien security source has said the measure had only pushed smugglers to use “new, more dangerous routes.”
European policemen have been present in Niger since 2017.
Since then, 824 people have been arrested, the French Interior Ministry says.