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Dakar – Niger is better off compromising with traffickers who smuggle goods and people across the desert than risking violence trying to stop them, according to researchers and regional authorities.

The West African country is a crossroads in the Sahara where people illegally transport drugs, gold and people along ancient trade routes, often headed for Europe by way of Libya.

Many migrants trying to reach Europe pay people to smuggle them through Niger and do so willingly, but others are exploited for labour and sex work, abused and enslaved by traffickers.

While Europe wants Niger to crack down on the trafficking, some experts say they are better off allowing it to continue.

“Given the rapid deterioration of security across the Sahel region, the need to prevent violent conflict in remote, highly vulnerable regions like northern Niger outweighs the need to curb criminality,” said Hannah Armstrong, a researcher at the International Crisis Group (ICG), a Belgium-based think tank.