In Niger, more than six months after the coup, French people turned back on their arrival

The diplomatic quarrel between Paris and the Nigerien junta has spread to the airports

In Niger, more than six months after the coup, French people turned back on their arrival

The diplomatic quarrel between Paris and the Nigerien junta has spread to the airports. Since the end of January, most French nationals who attempted to travel to Niger with valid documents have been turned away upon their arrival in Niamey, according to several French diplomatic sources and Nigerien officials. Monday February 19, a Franco-Chadian woman was refused entry to Niger when she got off the plane, reports an employee at Niamey airport. At the end of January, Jean-Noël Gentile, the head of the World Food Program (WFP), although he held a United Nations diplomatic passport, suffered the same fate.

“French people and dual nationals must now have a pass from the authorities to be able to come to us. Otherwise, we send them back. These are the instructions that we were given,” testifies the Nigerien source, claiming to have witnessed the refoulement of six French nationals in recent weeks.

The junta of General Abdourahamane Tiani, in power since the coup perpetrated at the end of July against the elected president, Mohamed Bazoum – still detained with his wife – has not officially communicated on any change in the entry procedure. Contacted by Le Monde, an advisor to the Nigerien government nevertheless recognizes that the French are indeed “returned to Niamey, without being arrested”. The few who have managed to pass through the airport gates in recent weeks have had their passports confiscated by the authorities, according to our information.

On Saturday February 10, the road was blocked for Patrick (his first name has been changed), a Frenchman residing for more than ten years in Niger, holder of a residence permit and with a valid passport, after he landed. “The agent noticed that I was French by the color of my passport, which I was holding in my hand. He took it from me and left with it. When he returned a few minutes later, he gave it to the captain and said, “Take it back where it came from.” So I couldn’t disembark and I went back to Europe,” he says.

“Illegal and xenophobic” acts

Like him, around ten French people with valid visas or residence cards, issued by the Nigerien authorities, were asked to leave, confirms an official French source, who criticizes “totally illegal and xenophobic” acts. “France has also turned back Nigerien nationals, who were told that their visas were cancelled, without explanation,” retorts the Nigerien government advisor. Paris has in fact revoked around ten visas granted to Nigeriens deemed hostile to France. “We are not going to maintain them for people who spend their time insulting us,” reacts the official French source, who sees in the recent expulsions a way for the military regime to give France its due.

Since the putsch of July 26, 2023, relations have continued to deteriorate between Paris, an unwavering ally of deposed President Mohamed Bazoum, and the military in power. At the end of September, the French ambassador, Sylvain Itté, was forced to leave Niger after three weeks of standoff with the junta. At the same time, the approximately 1,500 French soldiers present in the country were ordered by the putschists to pack up, after Paris was notably accused of complicity with jihadist groups.

The French embassy and consulate in Niamey had to close their doors on January 2, five months after being violently attacked by regime supporters. Since then, the French embassy is “no longer able to issue visas” to Nigeriens wishing to travel to France, it announced on its website on February 3.

Although he has made a request to the Nigerien authorities in order to obtain the safe conduct which now seems necessary to allow him to join his family in Niamey, Patrick has few illusions. “Sooner or later, French expatriates in Niger will have to leave the country,” he regrets. Of the approximately 1,200 French people registered on the consular lists in Niger in 2023, between 150 and 200 are still based in Niamey. The others had preferred to pack up, of their own accord or by benefiting from the evacuation organized by France the day after the putsch.