British taxpayers cash is being handed to people claiming to be former people smugglers in Africa to help set up new businesses in an European Union aid project, an investigation has revealed.
The scheme is part of a £260million scheme in the Western African nation to reduce the numbers of migrants heading to Europe.
Details of the Brussels spending, which British taxpayers contribute to as part of the UK’s EU membership fee, have been uncovered by an investigation by the BBC Panorama programme. The findings will be broadcast on BBC One this evening.
Reporters found that, until a few months ago, convoys of trucks packed with migrants from all over sub-Saharan Africa, would leave the city of Agadez in Niger.
A recent crackdown on smuggling led to huge numbers of trucks being confiscated and their drivers losing their livelihoods as a result.
Panorama gained access to a meeting overseen by Nigerien and EU officials where those claiming to be ex-people smugglers were lining up to be selected for EU funding to launch businesses of their choice.
Panorama was told that each claimant could get up to £5,000 at a time to move from smuggling into another profession.
An official interviewed by Panorama raised concerns about flaws in the scheme.
There was little vetting of the claimants and no paperwork, the official said, and friends or colleagues were simply asked to vouch for the people making claims.
Panorama also raised concerns about the difficulties in monitoring how the cash distributed under the scheme was spent.
The EU denied cash was being handed to smugglers while confirming that investments were being made to help people find alternatives to getting involved in the criminal activity.