Reuters International

NIAMEY (Reuters) - Niger, a major transit country for Africans seeking to reach the EU, told foreign ministers visiting from Europe on Tuesday it needs 1 billion euros (£791.7 million) to combat illegal migration.

As many as 150,000 migrants, most coming from other West African nations, will travel through Niger this year, crossing the Sahara Desert on their way to the Mediterranean coast, according to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).

A vast landlocked country, Niger borders Nigeria in the south and Libya to north - from whose coast many migrants set off on the perilous sea journey to EU members Italy or Malta.

"Niger needs a billion euros to fight against clandestine migration," Foreign Minister Ibrahim Yacoubou told a news conference in Niger's capital, flanked by his French and German counterparts Jean-Marc Ayrault and Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

"We've solicited the help of the European Union, France and Germany. We want to protect legal migration against clandestine migration," Yacoubou said.

With huge numbers of refugees fleeing war in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, and no let up in arrivals from Africa, the European Union faces its worst migration crisis since World War Two.

It allocated 1.15 billion euros in aid to West Africa last July, part of which was intended to go toward migration.

"I was particularly struck by the energy that Niger has deployed in the fight against terrorism and migration and for its development," said Ayrault, on a West Africa trip with Steinmeier that also took them to Mali.

Niger is one of the world's least developed nations and has been targeted by militants from Boko Haram, the Nigeria-based extremist group, as well as MUJWA, a breakaway faction of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

(Reporting by Boureima Balima; Writing by Makini Brice; Editing by Joe Bavier and Robin Pomeroy)

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