Migrant Expulsions from Algeria Have Not Stopped

Photo Credit: Ismail Zitouny/Reuters

By Maria Kuiper

Rabat – After Associated Press stated Algeria has stopped forcing migrants into the Sahara on July 13 due to international criticism and the firing of top officials, the human rights violations still continue to go on three days later.

Since May 2017, over 13,000 migrants from countries such as Côte d’Ivoire, Senegal, Guinea, and Cameroon, have been expelled from Algeria and left in the Sahara desert. The latest migrants found were on the Algerian side of the Niger border on July 15.

The mass forced migration out of Algeria is a result of multiple North African countries— Algeria, Mauritania, Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt—refusing to sign a protocol on the freedom of movement of people and right of residence. The protocol is part of the African Union’s African Continental Free Trade Area agreement. The North African countries fear over-migration from sub-Saharan Africa.

The coercive journey

When the migrants are abandoned in a desolate part of the Sahara desert near the Nigerien border, they pass through the cities of Assamakka, travel on buses to Arlit, then are transported to Agadez, and board flights sponsored by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) back to their home countries.

Migrants in Algeria struggle to survive as they are shut out from Algerian jobs.

They are also rounded up and taken to the border with Niger by bus. Many of the people’s personal belongings and phones are taken away, and they are supplied with limited food and water. Even pregnant women and children are being forced to walk in temperatures above 40 C in the Sahara. Many men, women, children, and babies have died hoping for freedom.

Ju Dennis, a Liberian, filmed his deportation with a concealed cellphone. His video showed people being packed into a truck trying to hide from the heat and the police.

“I want to expose [the Algerian government] now,” Dennis said. “We are here and we saw what they did. And we have proof.”

Government denial

Last year, the president of Guinea, Alpha Conde, criticized Algeria and its government as discriminatory to migrants as well as xenophobic.

Malians, another group of migrants expelled from Niger and sent back to their country, vandalized the Algerian embassy in Bamako, Mali, to protest the mistreatment of sub-Saharan migrants.

Niger has also expressed concerns of a human rights issue, and their Minister of Interior, Mohamed Bazoum, demanded that West Africans forced out of the country be sent back to Algeria.

The European Union had also stepped in, asking Algeria to set up centers for migrants seeking asylum. Algeria, as well as other neighboring countries, refused.

Although multiple nearby countries, as well as human rights organizations, have condemned Algeria’s treatment of migrants, Algeria retaliated by saying it has not done anything wrong.

“Algeria has always supported African migrants and spared no effort, including humanitarian, to lend them aid and assistance,” Algerian Interior Minister Noureddine Bedoui said.

Algeria’s government originally had denied the exportation of migrants ever happened until the Associated Press and Human Rights Watch released reports on it.

After the story broke, the Algerian government assigned local journalists to report on the mass detention of migrants to prove they were using humane treatment. However, journalists were not allowed to travel past the detention centers, which is where migrants are held only before they are ejected.

What is happening now

Although Algeria denies abandoning migrants in the desert, Aboubacar Ajouel, the mayor of Agadez, which is the last city for migrants to go through, has confirmed that expelled migrants have arrived.

On Saturday, Chief of Mission of the UN’s IOM in Niger, Giuseppe Loprete, tweeted that 391 migrants abandoned at the border are just now being assisted by IOM Niger. Just this morning, the program manager of IOM Iraq tweeted that the migrants are safe and will be back home shortly.

Since the beginning of 2018, IOM has rescued more than 3,000 people and is still working to rescue more.