Amadou, along with other migrants, was made to walk 40 km in the desert | Photo: Picture Alliance Archives
Amadou, along with other migrants, was made to walk 40 km in the desert | Photo: Picture Alliance Archives

Amadou* had been working for two years in the southern Algerian city of Tamanrasset when policemen arrived to detain him and then send him back to the desert, in the direction of Niger. The thirty-year-old West African recounted his journey across the desert and his difficult return home.

"One day, when I returned home from work, I found my place turned upside down. The police had been searching my apartment, according to my neighbors. They stole one of my phones and some money: 300,000 Algerian dinars and 2,000 euros. I had earned this money working in construction over the past two years. It was to be used for my return home.

Two days later, in the middle of the night, Algerian policemen surrounded my place. They came back to my apartment, took my second phone and the 35,000 dinars I had kept with me.

'They beat me with their truncheons'

The policemen took me to the police station where I stayed for several weeks. Everyday they asked me the same questions: 'How did you get into Algeria? What are you doing here?' I explained to them that I had been working in Tamanrasset for two years and that I was waiting to collect enough money to go home. But they didn't believe me so they beat me with their truncheons.

After being locked in a cell for a month, the police sent me to the 'repatriation yard'. It was very crowded, I think there were at least a hundred of us migrants: many young men but also women, children and even newborn babies.

At gunpoint, the Algerians put us in trucks, about 50 of us per truck. This is where they usually put cattle, but this time it was for us.

'We were all very scared'

At dawn, they dropped us off In Guezzam [an Algerian town near the border with Niger], in the middle of the desert and told us to reach Niger, 40 km away, on our own. They waited for us to get going and followed us with their truck, pointing their weapons at us. After a while, they turned around and went back to Tamanrasset.

We were all very scared because we didn't know if we could stand the shock in the middle of the desert: the sun burns your skin, you have nothing to drink except a one-and-a-half liter can of water to cover those 40 kilometers, you have an empty stomach, you struggle to walk. I saw three people die before my eyes that day. They were so tired, they collapsed on the ground.

Luckily, I am a sportsman so I managed to make it even though the journey was very difficult.

'My homecoming didn't go well'

We finally arrived in Assamaka [a desert town in Niger at one of the main border crossing points with Algeria], where we were taken under the care of the International Organization for Migration (IOM). The staff gave us food and drink and looked after the weakest among us.

The next day, we were transferred to the IOM center in Arlit [about 200 km south of Assamaka]. The site was very dirty, the toilets were full of excrement, nothing was ever cleaned. We had to wash ourselves in the toilets with water cans. But everyone was afraid to go into these rooms, fearing they would catch a disease.

After a few weeks, I was sent back to my country. I was happy because that's what I wanted, but my return didn't go well. When I left, my family was counting on me, but I came back empty-handed. My return meant one more mouth to feed.

How could I stand there and face their eyes? My family needs me, so some time after I came back, I made the decision to go back to Libya."

*First name changed at the request of the person concerned, who also does not want his country of origin mentioned.