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Niger 2019 Crime & Safety Report

Niger 2019 Crime & Safety Report

This is an annual report produced in conjunction with the Regional Security Office at the U.S. Embassy in Niamey, Niger.

 

The current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication assesses Niger at Level 3, indicating travelers should reconsider travel to the country due to crime, terrorism, and kidnapping.

 

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

 

The U.S. Embassy in Niamey does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The American Citizen Services (ACS) Unit cannot recommend a particular individual or location and assumes no responsibility for the quality of service provided.

 

Review OSAC’s Niger-specific webpage for original OSAC reporting, consular messages, and contact information, some of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.

 

 

Crime Threats

 

There is considerable risk from crime in Niamey. Crime occurs at all hours in Niger. Non-violent crimes (e.g. pickpocketing, purse snatching, and backpack/cell phone theft) are present in major cities, notably in/around places where Westerners gather. Within Niamey, avoid the Night Market; criminals loiter in the area, which is notorious for pickpocketing, purse snatching, mugging, and assaults. Other markets, the area around the Gaweye and Grand Hotels, the National Museum, and Kennedy Bridge are also high-risk areas.

 

Violent crimes (e.g. muggings, assaults) are not as common as non-violent crimes, and typically occur after dark. Assailants may be aggressive and display a weapon during a robbery; knives are the most frequently employed weapon, as some Nigeriens carry knives or machetes as part of their normal dress.

 

Vehicle thefts are prevalent in Niamey; however, incidents have decreased since the 2016 arrests of a Nigerien/Nigerian theft ring. Most carjackings reported to police occur along Niger’s southern border. 

 

There has been an overall decrease in residential robbery in Niamey. Home invasions and residential robberies occur primarily after dark and can be violent. There have been several incidents in which assailants attacked residential guards or occupants. Although thieves typically choose to rob homes that have no visible residential security measures, these measures have not stopped robbers in some cases, including those targeting diplomat and NGO residences. In addition, there have been numerous reports of commercial and NGO office robberies.

 

Cybersecurity Issues

 

Due to the lack of cyber infrastructure and the relatively low rate of internet penetration, the prevalence of cybercrime is thought to be low. However, information on cybercrime trends in Niger may be lacking due to the limited abilities of Niger’s security forces and law enforcement officials to track, investigate, and prevent cybercrime.

 

Other Areas of Concern

 

Niger’s location between West and North Africa, vast open deserts, and lengthy porous borders make it a transit point for terrorists, criminals, migrants, weapons, contraband, and illegal drugs. Loosely organized criminal elements operate in Niger. The country has long been a transit route for smugglers. In northern Niger, within the Sahara Desert, the seminomadic, pastoral Tuareg ethnic group has long facilitated cross-border licit and illicit trade, including the smuggling of contraband (e.g. weapons, illegal drugs, fuel, vehicles, humans, cigarettes). Along the border with Nigeria, criminal elements smuggle everything from fuel to rice to automobiles. Smuggling is often done via caravans of trucks through the desert. The 2011 war in Libya prompted a rise in smuggling activity in Niger, and there have been clashes between smugglers and security forces. Smuggling activities have increased since 2016, as the government of Niger has cracked down on migrant transportation, which used to play an important role in the economy of central and northern Niger. The criminalization of migrant transport has driven the business underground, encouraging more violent practitioners willing and able to take greater risks and feeding the traffic of drugs and weapons.

 

Niger is confronting a number of major security threats, including increasing criminal and terrorist activity in the Tillabéri and Tahoua regions, which border Mali and Burkina Faso; spillover terrorist activity in the Diffa region from Nigeria due to Boko Haram and Islamic State in West Africa (ISIS-WA); threats from ISIS elements from Libya; and growing regional instability in the Sahel. In addition, the Agadez region is a major corridor for the illicit trafficking of goods, weapons, and people between Europe, North Africa, and West Africa; criminal elements, armed groups, and terrorists operate in this area.

 

The Government of Niger has regularly renewed the State of Emergency declaration first made in 2015 in the Diffa region, and in 2017, extended the State of Emergency to seven provinces in the Tillabéri and Tahoua regions due to attacks emanating from Mali. A government statement noted it would enforce a state of emergency in the districts of Ouallam, Ayorou, Bankilare, Abala and Banibangou in Tillabéri, and in Tassara and Tillia districts of Tahoua. The decision followed a spate of deadly attacks that killed 16 soldiers in Ouallam and an attack that killed five gendarmes in Wanzarbe, Bankilare district. The State of Emergency grants security forces special powers, including the right to search homes.

 

The U.S. Government has limited ability to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens in remote and rural areas, as U.S. government employees must obtain special authorization to travel outside Niamey due to security concerns. Outside of Niamey, all U.S. Embassy personnel may travel only during daylight hours in a minimum two-vehicle convoy accompanied by armed Nigerien government security escorts.

 

Nigerien authorities do reserve the right to restrict travel based on the security situation along any intended route. The security climate in Niger can change quickly, and Nigerien authorities may decide to take additional security measures.

 

Following the murder of a French tourist in Agadez in 2005, the Nigerien government began requiring NGOs to register and inform the government of each trip they plan to take. To avoid detention and/or expulsion by authorities, NGO workers should abide by the following standard operating procedures: 

·         Make sure that your NGO has received official recognition from the government. Visit the Managing Office of Decentralized Cooperation and Non-Governmental Organizations (Direction de la Coopération Décentralisée et des Organisations Non Governementales) in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation (Ministère des Affaires Étrangères et de la Coopération).

·         If your international NGO sponsor is without a permanent presence in Niger, verify that your NGO has informed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation at least two weeks prior to the start of a mission. This notice should be in writing and should include the purpose of the mission, the dates of the mission, where the mission will take place, and the types and license plate numbers of the vehicles involved. Copy the Interior Ministry on this notice.

·         If your NGO is headquartered in Niger, verify that your group has informed the Ministry of Planning, Land Management, and Community Development (Ministère du Plan, de l’Aménagement du Territoire et du Développement Communautaire) at least two weeks prior to the start of a mission. This notice must be in writing and include the purpose of the mission, the names of the individuals who will be working for the NGO on the mission, the dates of the mission, where the mission will take place, and the types and license plate numbers of the vehicles involved. Copy the Interior Ministry on this notice. Ask for a receipt of any notification provided to a Ministry.

·         Carry a copy of the official recognition (Arrêté) of the right of your NGO to operate in Niger.

·         Prior to beginning a mission in Niger, NGO workers should present themselves at the regional governor’s office. NGO workers should ask for a receipt of the documents they present to the governor (or highest-ranking official available). Provide the governor with the same written notification you provided to the required ministries.

 

Tourists are free to take pictures anywhere in Niger, except near military installations, radio and television stations, the Presidential Palace, airports, or diplomatic facilities. Tourists should not photograph military or police personnel, or political or student demonstrations, and should seek prior permission before taking a close-up “portrait” photo of an individual. For more information, review OSAC’s report, Picture This: Dos and Don’ts for Photography.

 

Transportation Safety Situation

 

For more information, review OSAC’s report, Security in Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.

 

Road Safety and Road Conditions

 

Road conditions in major cities are hazardous. While there are some paved roads in Niamey, most residential streets are dirt or sand. Niamey has a number of roundabouts, which are often sources of congestion; different traffic circles have different rules of priority, which contribute to the high incidence of traffic accidents. Drivers can be aggressive and often disregard the rules of the road.

 

Motorcycles inundate the roads in Niamey. Motorcycle accidents occur frequently; many result in fatalities. The large number of motorcycles, bicycles, vendor carts, broken-down vehicles, beggars, and pedestrians on the streets makes driving a challenge. In addition, livestock (e.g. camels, cattle, goats) wander in the streets.

 

Traffic police are present at large intersections, and conduct law enforcement checks at numerous points. Police are generally professional, but some traffic officers attempt to extort money from drivers. All tollbooths (péages) at city limits on major roads are official and should be respected. A driver will receive a receipt of toll payment; maintain your receipt for the return trip on the same road. Despite the overt presence of traffic police, there are frequent vehicle accidents and road hazards that pose a risk for motorist safety.

 

Do not use headlights during the day; except in emergencies, only police and military vehicles are allowed to do so. Do not use horns after dark. Pull over for official motorcades or military convoys with headlights on, public emergency vehicles with sirens on, and funeral processions.

 

Accidents involving minor damage generally only require an exchange of insurance information. However, accidents involving more serious damage or injuries, or where there is any dispute over insurance or who is at fault, will require police involvement. In any accident where the police are involved, vehicles should not be moved before the police arrive.

 

Transit routes linking Niamey to neighboring countries are focal points for smuggling and other criminal activities, including carjacking and armed banditry. Daytime highway robberies have occurred, but are much less frequent than nighttime criminality. There have been incidents of carjacking on the main east-west road (Highway N1) along the Nigerian border. Most incidents of banditry involve the use of firearms; assailants are not afraid to use violence when victims show resistance. Most attacks occur at dusk, after dark, or in the very early morning hours.

 

Foreigners traveling beyond Niamey’s city limits must carry their car registration and personal identification documents. Carry first-aid supplies, a local cellular or satellite phone, water, and a monitored personal tracking locator (if possible) in all vehicles.

 

For more information see OSAC’s reports on Driving Overseas: Best Practices and Road Safety in Africa.

 

Public Transportation Conditions 

 

Avoid taxis. Taxis use is prohibited for all U.S. Embassy personnel. Taxis pose multiple hazards. Taxi drivers are notorious for driving erratically and may stop quickly to pick up passengers. The government does not regulate or vet taxis. Vehicles are under-maintained, do not meet Western safety standards, and are prone to breaking down. 

 

Inter-city “bush-taxis” are available at negotiable fares, but these vehicles are generally older, unsafe models that are overloaded, poorly maintained, and driven by reckless operators seeking to save time and money.

 

A national bus company (SNTV) operates coaches on intercity routes and, since being reorganized in 2001, has provided reliable service and experienced no major accidents. Air Transport, Rimbo, and Garba Messagé are private bus companies operating in Niger. Concerns exist regarding the youth of drivers and the speed with which private buses travel.

 

Hitchhiking is not a recommended form of transportation.  Nigerien security forces have taken foreign individuals who are attempting to hitchhike through rural areas into protective custody.

 

Aviation/Airport Conditions

 

The National Police and Gendarmerie carry out security at Niger’s Diori Hamani International Airport (NIM), using X-rays and metal detectors. Travelers must have a valid Nigerien visa. 

 

Terrorism Threat

 

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

 

There is considerable risk from terrorism in Niamey. Terrorist groups continue plotting kidnappings and possible attacks in Niger. Terrorists may attack with little/no warning, targeting foreign and local government facilities and areas Westerners frequent. Externally-based extremist groups have crossed the border and carried out multiple lethal attacks on Nigerien security forces. 

 

Niger has experienced terrorism, mainly in the form of kidnapping-for-ransom (KFR) and clashes between security forces and extremist militants. The country faces threats from Mali-based terrorist groups, which include regional affiliates of al-Qa’ida and ISIS, as well as Nigeria-based terrorist groups, such as Boko Haram and ISIS West Africa Province (ISIS-WA). These groups include some Nigerien nationals. Mali-based terrorist groups in particular have increasingly targeted local, regional, and international security forces in Mali and neighboring countries. Since 2015, al-Qa’ida affiliates based in Mali have conducted or been implicated in attacks in major Sahel cities against locations foreigners frequent, including soft and hard targets.

 

Niamey has not experienced a terrorist attack since 2011, when terrorists kidnapped from a restaurant and subsequently killed two French citizens; however, it remains a potential target. Mali-based terrorist groups have shown a propensity for retaliating against countries that participate in regional counterterrorism efforts and/or support U.S. and French military presence in the region. Niger is home to a French surveillance base, and a U.S. drone base is under construction in Agadez. In addition, Niger participates in the G5 Sahel Force, a newly-formed France-supported counterterrorism force composed of troops from five regional governments. The G5 Sahel force launched its first operation in late 2017, focusing on the tri-border area of Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger.

 

Terrorist groups have carried out a number of notable attacks in Niger, including:

·         Numerous attacks throughout 2018 in Niger’s western regions of Tillabéri and Tahoua.

·         Schools burned in the village of Bossey Bangou near the Burkina Faso border in September 2018.

·         Kidnapping of an Italian Priest from the village of Kogel Beli near the Burkina Faso border in December 2018.

·         Attack on a Nigerien Army unit near Tongo Tongo, in which 29 soldiers were killed in May 2019.

·         An attack on the on the Koutoukalé high-security prison in May 2019 involving a large vehicle-borne improvised explosive device. The attack failed to free militants housed in the prison, but it illustrated the sophistication and organization of terrorist groups operating within and outside of the country. 

·         Multiple attacks in Diffa, to include suicide bombings in June 2018 and April 2019.

 

Escalations in terrorist activity in Niger’s Tillabéri and Tahoua regions prompted the government to declare a State of Emergency in large parts of these regions.

 

Two Nigerian-based terrorist groups, Boko Haram and ISIS-WA, continue to menace Niger’s southwestern Diffa region, resulting in some of the most deadly attacks on Niger’s soil. Boko Haram is from northern Nigeria, where the population – mostly Hausa and Kanuri – is essentially identical to that on the Nigerien side of the border. Boko Haram has attacked government forces and targeted/killed civilians in Niger, Chad, Cameroon, and Nigeria. Boko Haram has kidnapped and killed foreigners, publicly threatens to continue to do so, and has often highlighted Christian organizations as a target. Niger, whose population is majority Hausa, has experienced open conflict with Boko Haram in the south (specifically the Diffa region), where authorities have arrested and killed Boko Haram members. Since 2015, Boko Haram has expanded its presence in Niger and carried out several attacks in the Diffa region, including improvised explosive devices and suicide bombings. Diffa hosts over 300,000 displaced persons, including Nigerian refugees and internally displaced Nigeriens.

 

The Government of Niger began to discuss demilitarization, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) programming in 2016, and continues to work on a viable reintegration plan for former Boko Haram combatants, as defectors have begun to turn themselves in to authorities in Diffa.

 

Anti-U.S./Anti-Western Sentiment

 

There is little anti-U.S. sentiment among the general population. Due to a French colonial history, anti-France sentiment sometimes comes to the surface. In 2013, two French citizens were beaten and briefly taken hostage by residents of the Goudel neighborhood (approximately 1 km from the Embassy). This incident occurred after Goudel residents had warned that foreigners were not welcome in the neighborhood in the context of protests against road barriers emplaced by the government in response to heightened terrorist threats.

 

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

 

There is considerable risk from civil unrest in Niamey. Niger most recently experienced a military coup in 2010, which removed President Tandja from power. In 2011, a democratically-elected government was installed, prompting the U.S. to restore full bilateral cooperation. In 2016, President Issoufou was re-elected for a second five-year term.

 

Civil Unrest

 

Niger experiences periodic violent demonstrations. Large and small street demonstrations occur regularly, often near government buildings, university campuses, or other gathering places (such as public parks), or blocking the main bridge over the Niger River. Some demonstrations have involved rock throwing, tire burning, and setting cars on fire, especially at key intersections in Niamey. There have been occasional reports of rock-throwing demonstrators targeting NGO and diplomatic vehicles, but none in recent years. Student marches frequently protest various education-related issues. Trade and service unions and other associations often protest for better wages and working conditions. 

 

Religious/Ethnic Violence 

 

Relations between Christians and Muslims are predominantly peaceful in Niger. However, episodic violent protests have occurred in Maradi in which demonstrators set fire to churches, burn tires, and erect roadblocks. In response to such religious violence – which remains an unusual occurrence in Niger – government officials have resolved the unrest and multiple religious leaders made statements and implemented initiatives to restore interfaith solidarity.

 

Post-specific Concerns

 

Environmental Hazards

 

Extreme heat is a serious environmental hazard. Temperatures can surpass 115 degrees Fahrenheit during the hot season (March-June).

 

During the rainy season (July-September), flash flooding can occur without warning. During the 2017 rainy season, flash flooding claimed more than 40 lives and destroyed buildings and roads throughout the country.

 

Personal Identity Concerns

 

Local culture and Islamic tradition encourage conservative dress for both men and women. There have been incidents of groups of men assaulting women who appear to be African and who are wearing clothing other than traditional garments.

 

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in Niger is punished by a fine and a jail sentence. Between 1998 and 2006 the practice of FGM on girls aged 15 to 49 was reduced by 50% (5% to 2.2%) although ethnic and regional disparities remain, with a pocket of the most intense FGM practice persisting in far Western Niger. Forced marriage or marriage without the consent of one or both parties still happens in Niger, and victims are often minor 15-18 year old girls. Women have limited access to education and employment (less than 15% of women can read.)

 

There is strong societal stigma against same-sex sexual activity in Niger, but no laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual activity in general. The law states, however, that an “unnatural act” with a person of the same sex who is under 21 is punishable by six months to three years in prison and a fine of between 9,000 and 90,000 CFA francs.

 

Nigerien law mandates that the state provide for persons with physical and mental disabilities, but there are no specific regulations mandating accessibility to buildings, transportation, and communication for those with special needs. There is extremely limited accessibility to public transportation, road crossings, taxis, restaurants, cafes, bars, and other tourist spots.

 

Drug-related Crimes

 

Smuggling of narcotics and other items from Mali through Niger to Libya and from Nigeria is prevalent.

 

Kidnapping Threat

 

(KFR operations occur in Niger. The threat to Westerners remains high. A U.S. citizen was kidnapped from the Mali border area in 2016; two foreigners were kidnapped in 2018. There is a persistent threat of kidnapping of Westerners in Diffa and Tillabéri regions; some NGOs have scaled back operations and are reviewing travel/movement of Western personnel more carefully in this area.

 

Although the U.S. government places the highest priority on the safe recovery of kidnapped U.S. citizens, it is U.S. policy not to make concessions to kidnappers. Consequently, the type of assistance that the U.S. Government can provide to kidnap victims is limited, as is host nation capacity to support a rescue operation.

 

For more information, review OSAC’s report, Kidnapping: The Basics.

 

Police Response

 

The police sometimes lack the resources (e.g. vehicles, fuel) to respond immediately to calls for assistance.

 

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

 

U.S. citizens who experience police harassment or detention should immediately notify the U.S. Embassy Consular Section and ask to speak with the American Citizen Services; outside working hours, call the Duty Officer at (+227) 94-49-90-66. 

 

Crime Victim Assistance

 

U.S. citizens who have been victims of crime should immediately contact the local police and then the U.S. Embassy. Local police can be reached at 17. If the police are unable to respond, U.S. citizens should contact the U.S. Embassy, or if after hours, call Marine Post One at 99-49-90-33.

 

Police/Security Agencies 

 

The Police Nationale is the main law enforcement force for cities and villages, and falls under the Interior Ministry (MOI). Officers typically wear black berets.

 

The Garde Nationale falls under the MOI, and is charged with guarding prisons and government buildings. While dressed like soldiers but typically with red berets, Garde members have civilian arrest authority, can conduct checkpoints, and can be called on to quell civil disturbances.

 

The Gendarmerie falls under the Ministry of Defense and also has civilian arrest authority. The Gendarmes typically cover the rural areas and roadways; they typically wear green berets.

 

Medical Emergencies

 

Medical care does not meet U.S. standards and is limited or non-existent in rural areas. Healthcare is substandard when available. Hospitalization is risky. Infections following minor procedures are common even at the best medical facilities.

 

Drugs, bandages, IV fluids, and other supplies are often in short supply in local hospitals. Niger has a substantial trade in counterfeit pharmaceuticals that poses a significant hazard for those seeking medications. Bring prescriptions and over-the-counter medications – particularly anti-malarial medication – with you in sufficient supply; transported these in carry-on luggage in case checked baggage is lost or delayed. For more information, refer to OSAC’s report, Traveling with Medication.

 

Emergency medical assistance (EMT, paramedics) exists only in Niamey (SAMU: dial 15). Appropriately trained responders only staff ambulances during daylight hours. Most ambulances are dilapidated, have no emergency equipment, and can take an hour or more to arrive.

 

Contact Information for Available Medical Services

 

For information on medical assistance in Niger, refer to the Embassy Medical Assistance page.

 

Available Air Ambulance Services

 

International SOS: Paris, Tel: +33-1-55-63-31-55; London, Tel: +44-20-87-62-80-08 

Global Rescue: Tel: +1-617-459-4200

Europ Assistance: Tel: +1-877-710-4082, +1=240-330-1523

Tamara Niger Aviation: (can’t evacuate off continent), Tel: +227-20-73-85-85, +227-99-99-07-77

Alpha Aviation Niger: (can’t evacuate off continent), Tel: +227-20-73-40-26, +227-96-96-44-78

 

Insurance Guidance

 

Physicians/clinics do not take insurance or credit cards and typically accept cash only. Carry medical evacuation (medevac) insurance if you plan to travel to Niger.

 

CDC Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

 

Only consume water for drinking and cooking from a distiller, or if it is sanitized prior to consumption; assume all other water sources are non-potable. Diarrheal illness is quite prevalent, even in cities and luxury accommodations. Care with food preparation, obtaining drinking water, and stringent handwashing will prevent most diarrheal illnesses. For more information, refer to OSAC’s report, I’m Drinking What in My Water?

 

Air quality is poor in Niamey. Travelers with respiratory conditions may experience worsening symptoms in Niger.

 

The CDC recommends the following vaccinations for anyone intending to travel to Niger: hepatitis A and B, typhoid, polio, yellow fever, quadrivalent meningococcal, and rabies. Travelers must have documentation showing a current yellow fever vaccination to enter Niger. Niger is located in the meningitis belt of West Africa, and experiences epidemics of meningitis every few years, typically between December and June.

 

Discuss with your doctor the best ways to avoid malaria. All of the following antimalarial drugs are acceptable options for preventing malaria in Niger: atovaquone-proguanil, doxycycline, or mefloquine. Chloroquine is NOT an effective antimalarial drug due to resistance. There is year-round transmission of malaria in Niamey, given the urban landscape and proximity to the Niger River.

 

The CDC lists Niger as an “Other Area with Zika Risk” due to the presence of Aedes mosquitos and lack of adequate surveillance to detect Zika transmission. Because Zika infection in a pregnant woman can cause birth defects, pregnant women should not visit Niger. Consult a physician if you are planning a family in the near term.

 

For additional information on vaccines and health guidance, visit the CDC webpage for Niger.  

 

OSAC Country Council Information

 

Niger’s OSAC Country Council meets quarterly. Interested private-sector security managers should contact OSAC’s Africa team with any questions.

 

U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information 

 

Embassy Address and Hours of Operation 

 

Ambassade des États-Unis, Rue des Ambassades, Niamey

Embassy Hours: Monday-Thursday: 0800-1730, Friday 0800-1300.

 

Embassy Contact Numbers

 

Embassy Switchboard: (country code 227) 20-72-26-61/62/63/64

Marine Post One: Land line +227-20-72-31-41 (after hours) or +227-99-49-90-33

Website: http://ne.usembassy.gov

 

Embassy Guidance

 

U.S. citizens traveling in Niger should register in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). STEP is a free service that helps the U.S. Embassy disseminate information about safety conditions and contact travelers in an emergency. Find updated travel information on the U.S. Embassy website.

 

Additional Resource: Niger Country Information Sheet

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