Since the beginning of the year, more than 4,000 people have been taken by the Algerian police to the border with Niger, to a place in the middle of the desert nicknamed "point zero". Abandoned there, some get lost and are never found. In a new report, MSF denounces these illegal deportations that continue despite border closure.
"The Algerian gendarmes broke down the door. They took everything: money and phones. Then they took me to the police station [...] Although I was pregnant, I received no special treatment. The guards had no compassion towards me or my physical condition," says Safi, a Malian woman who was four months’ pregnant with her third child on the day that police arrived at her home.
Safi is one of the migrants recently "rounded up" by the Algerian authorities and taken by force to the desert, just a few kilometers from Niger, to "point zero". It is there, in the middle of nowhere, that the migrants are unceremoniously abandoned.
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They have to make their own way to Niger, often without GPS or maps. The border has been closed since March 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic, but the deportations never stopped.
Since the beginning of the year, 4,370 migrants have been brought to this "point zero". They included one person with a gunshot wound and another with a broken leg.
Migrants are abandoned "often in the middle of the night," writes Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in a report published on Wednesday, April 21.
The deportation process is often the same: after their arrest, the migrants -- who have sometimes been in Algeria for several years -- are sent to detention centers for a few days or weeks. They are then packed into buses and taken into the desert.
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"Some got lost and were never found"
In 2020, more than 23,000 migrants crossed the desert, according to MSF figures.
"With nothing in their pockets, and with no map or directions, people being expelled from Algeria were faced with a 15-kilometer walk to Assamaka, the nearest settlement. Some people reportedly got lost on the way and were never found," writes MSF.
“These arrests, detentions and expulsions by the Algerian government do not respect the fundamental principle of non-refoulement and are contrary to international human rights law and international refugee law,” said MSF head of mission, Jamal Mrrouch.
For years, Algeria has been illegally returning migrants by releasing them into the desert. The InfoMigrants editorial staff has recorded many testimonies of migrants who are victims of these illegal expulsions. Many said they feared getting lost due the lack of landmarks; they also mentioned the harsh desert weather -- the extreme heat during the day and the cold nights.
"They dropped us off about 15 kilometers from the border. The rest we had to do on foot. That night, between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m., we walked towards Niger, there were about 400 of us," Falikou, a 28-year-old Ivorian, explained to InfoMigrants in January.
When they manage to reach the Niger border, migrants are usually taken into the care of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), which has several centers in the country. Some decide to return home, while others try to return to Algeria or to reach Europe via the Moroccan or Libyan coast.