The latest report by Human Rights Watch has accused Algerian authorities of sending back migrants and refugees from sub-Saharan countries to Niger and Mali. More than 3,000 people have been deported since late August this year.
Human Rights Watch spoke to several migrants from countries like Niger, Cameroon and Ivory Coast and published their testimonies in its latest report.
An Ivorian, referred to as Yves in the report, said he was arrested on October 11 with his wife and month-old baby as they were returning from the hospital after vaccinating their child. Officials of the gendarmerie (Algerian military police) did not ask them for any papers, but arrested them and took them with other immigrants to Zeralda camp, in a suburb in Algiers. They were freed some hours later after the Red Crescent intervened. Yves has been hiding in his home since then, fearing arrest if he ventures outside.
Thirty-two-year-old Dadi from Cameroon said she had been living with her husband in Algiers for five years. She was also arrested on October 11, along with several other black workers from a construction site. They were taken to the Bellevue gendarmerie station and later to Zeralda camp, where she was told to stay in a large hall. She was the only woman in the room and was moved after Red Crescent workers asked her to be shifted into a hall with other women from Niger, Mali, Cameroon and Liberia. After two nights, she and the others were taken to a camp outside the city and then moved to Agadez in Niger. She is now living with relatives there and hoping to reunite with her husband who is still in Algiers.
Three migrants targeted during the roundups said they believed the gendarmes targeted them because of their skin color. “When black workers there saw the gendarmes, they tried to flee but the gendarmes chased them and forced them into the van,” a witness told HRW.
Human rights watchdog Amnesty International also accused Algeria of racial targeting in a report last week. “Research by Amnesty International indicates they made arrests on the basis of racial profiling as they did not seek to ascertain whether the migrants had the right to stay in the country, either by checking their passports or documents. Some of those arrested and deported are undocumented migrants, while others have valid visas,” the organization said in a press release.
Algeria is a signatory of the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1987 Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. This means that it is barred from expelling any asylum seeker or refugee to a place where he or she faces threat to life or persecution or any kind.
But in July, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s cabinet chief Ahmed Ouyahia said migrants were a “source of criminality and drugs” and Algerians needed to be protected from this “chaos.” Soon after, the country’s Foreign Affairs Minister Abdelkader Messahel said that the newcomers represented “a threat to national security.”
Algeria challenges accusations
Meanwhile, Algiers has countered the criticism, with Justice Minister Tayeb Louh saying last week that Algeria has not closed its doors to migrants and nationals from other African countries and that it worked to “reconcile the need to protect its borders and secure the country,” Algeria’s official news agency reported.
The Algerian Red Crescent, which is affiliated with the government, also released a statement last week, accusing the Amnesty report of lacking objectivity. “Algeria respected all international standards and procedures while handling the issue and fulfilled its obligations,” the Red Crescent’s Saeeda bin Hablis told reporters, adding that Amnesty needed to find solutions to problems itself rather than accusing Algeria.
More than 3,000 migrants have been deported to Niger since August this year, according to HRW, which accused the Algerian authorities of not giving the migrants an opportunity to challenge their expulsion. Those deported included 300 minors and at least 25 unaccompanied children. The number of migrants expelled to Mali is yet to be determined, but Eric-Alain Kamdem of Maison du Migrant, an organization working at the Malian border in Gao, said that he had recorded eight people entering the country.
Niger and Mali share borders with Algeria and are key transit countries for refugees traveling to Europe. According to the EU’s border agency Frontex, the number of migrants arriving in September fell by more than two-thirds – to 5,600 compared to last year. However, the number of people arriving in September was more than in August 2017 because of the high number of irregular migrants traveling from Tunisia and Algeria. Compared to 2016, numbers rose to 14,800 this year until September in the Western Mediterranean route from Morocco to Spain.