Migrants somewhere in the desert between Algeria and Niger. (photo: InfoMigrants archive)
Migrants somewhere in the desert between Algeria and Niger. (photo: InfoMigrants archive)

Ibrahim from Mali and Djibril from Cameroon were arrested by Algerian security forces and forced to cross the border to Niger, located in the middle of the desert, on foot. They told InfoMigrants about their nightmarish journey.

"That morning, I was heading towards the field where I was working. I saw a coach pull up in front of me. Three police officers in civilian clothing got out. Everything happened very quickly. They took me away without asking me anything. I didn’t even have time to run."

Djibril was arrested in the middle of the street in Oran by Algerian security forces on July 10. He says that he was traumatized by the raid.

"When I got into the coach, I saw that there were other people like me. They took our fingerprints and told us that we were going to Tamanrasset. A few hours later, they put us in a bus to southern Algeria. There were several buses and hundreds of people, including men, women and children."

Tamanrasset is about 2,000 kilometres south of Oran, which is located on the coast in northern Algeria. The bus drove for several days before reaching the south of the country.

At a certain point during the telephone interview with InfoMigrants, Djibril was finding it hard to talk about these painful memories, so he handed the phone to Ibrahim. The Malian man was arrested on the same day as Djibril. Over the past few weeks, the two men have become close, bonding over the traumatic experience.

"We arrived in Tamanrasset after three days of travel. [...] It was night. We went to a refugee camp. There were people from the Red Cross. We made groups of people from the same country. Cameroonians with Cameroonians, Malians with Malians and so on.

We were shocked by how violent the authorities were with us. The Algerian soldiers and police hit us with truncheons. They treated us as if we were animals. They were even violent towards the women and children.

In the middle of night, they put us in trucks and drove towards In Guezzam [Editor’s note: the final Algerian town before the border with Niger]. When the trucks came to a stop, it was daylight. So we realized that it was already Friday. They made us get out and told us that Assamaka was 5 kilometres away. That was false."

Assamaka, a town in the middle of the desert, is the first settlement on the Nigerian side of the border. It is more than 25 kilometres from In Guezzam.

"It was so hot. People collapsed as we were walking. How can anyone walk 25 kilometres in the desert without food or water? The Algerian police are terrible. What they did to us was barbaric.

My feet hurt and were swollen. When they arrested me in Oran, I was wearing moccasins. Crossing the desert in moccasins is hard. The stones ripped up my feet. It took me about five hours to reach Assamaka. Other people did it in three hours. The weakest people took even more time than I did.

Thanks to god, while we were in the desert, we encountered some cars that agreed to take the weakest amongst us, including the women and children, on to Assamaka. Djibril and I walked the whole way."

When Djibril and Ibrahim reached Assamaka on July 13, they were treated by teams from the International Organisation of Migration (IOM), the UN migration agency. The two men didn’t take the IOM up on its offer to repatriate them to their home countries via Agadez, a larger town. Instead, two days after their arrival in Assamaka, they headed back to Algeria. Ibrahim explained why.

"You think I don’t understand what just happened? I understand. Algeria isn’t a welcoming place. I’ve never had a moment of peace there. Both the Algerian people and the police are always insulting us. They call us 'monkeys.' Even the kids harass us. They often throw stone at us. But my family is still in Oran. All my belongings are there, too. When the police took me, I didn’t have anything on me. No money, no belongings. I have to go back.

I don’t know if I will ever return to Gao, my hometown. It’s dangerous for me there. But I don’t really want to go to Europe either. Honestly, I don’t know what to do."

In the post below, the IOM talks about the migrants, including Djibril and Ibrahim, who were dropped off in the desert last month. 

 

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