Advert

Algeria stops forcing migrants into Sahara following outcry

More than 13,000 people had been dropped off in the stark, dangerous region

African migrants in Algeria. Photo: AFP

African migrants in Algeria. Photo: AFP

Algeria's deadly expulsions of migrants into the Sahara Desert have all but halted after widespread condemnation and the sacking of two top security officials.

The expulsions to the desert borders that Algeria shares with Niger and Mali have almost ground to a halt since The Associated Press reported less than three weeks ago that more than 13,000 people, including women and children, had been dropped off in the stark, dangerous region since May 2017, according to officials with the UN's International Organisation for Migration.

Before the report was published on June 26, the North African nation was expelling migrants by the hundreds almost every week into the unforgiving desert, sometimes to their deaths.

Algeria has refused repeated requests for comment on the expulsions.

The European Union also declined to comment.

The expulsions came as Europe pressured North African governments to head off the migrants before they can cross the Mediterranean Sea.

An aid worker with contacts in Algeria said the mass detentions continue, but now migrants, including dozens of pregnant women, are warehoused in overcrowded jails.

Algeria also continues to deport migrants from neighbouring Niger, with which it has had an expulsion agreement since 2015.

But while migrants from other sub-Saharan countries were dropped in the desert secretly and forced to walk for miles under the blistering sun, those from Niger have long been driven to the border by convoys.

Following the report in June, Algerian officials invited local media to watch such a round of deportations to prove they were humanely done.

Algeria's security forces have fallen into disarray since the report was published, with the head of the gendarmerie and the chief of national security both being forced from their jobs.

It is unclear why the men were sacked, but both were linked to the migrant expulsions in the desert as well as to an unrelated corruption scandal involving the seizure of more than 1,550lbs of cocaine from a cargo ship in May.

Algeria has insisted that migrants are treated appropriately, but the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has condemned the expulsions in the desert.

Two days after the AP report, Human Rights Watch also released an investigation into the forced desert marches.

Sarah Leah Whitson of Human Rights Watch said: "Algeria has the power to control its borders, but that doesn't mean it can round up people based on the colour of their skin and dump them in the desert, regardless of their legal status and without a shred of due process."

Migrants filmed videos of themselves fanning out across the open desert, stumbling through heat that reaches above 50C in summer, as Algerian gendarmes with guns ensured they did not turn back.

Of the more than two dozen migrants who AP journalists interviewed in Niger, nearly all reported seeing deaths during the forced march, which sometimes lasted days.

The conditions migrants were enduring in the Sahara Desert had been an open secret among aid workers as well as governments in Africa and Europe. The African Union had already complained about Algeria's policies toward migrants in a statement in May.

"We cannot accept African countries ill-treating Africans, even if they enter the country illegally," the chairman of the AU Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, said this week in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

European Union officials said they discussed the desert expulsions with Algerian government officials privately in recent months, but the EU nonetheless settled upon Algeria as one of a handful of countries where it had hoped to set up centres to sort economic migrants from asylum-seekers fleeing for their lives.

Algeria refused this offer, as did a number of other countries.

Advert
Advert
Advert