Walk or Die: Algeria Abandons 13,000 Refugees in the Sahara

AFRICA, 2 Jul 2018

Al Jazeera News– TRANSCEND Media Service

Associated Press report details witness accounts of migrants and refugees from Africa left to die in the Sahara Desert.

25 Jun 2018 – Algeria has abandoned more than 13,000 people in the Sahara Desert over the past 14 months, including pregnant women and children, expelling them without food or water and forcing them to walk, sometimes at gunpoint, under a blistering sun. Some never make it out alive.

The expelled migrants and refugees can be seen coming over the horizon by the hundreds, appearing at first as specks in the distance under temperatures of up to 48 degrees Celsius.

WATCH: UN: Record 68.5m people displaced worldwide (1:28)

In Niger, where the majority head, the lucky ones limp across a desolate 15km no-man’s-land to the border village of Assamaka.

Others wander for days before a United Nations rescue squad can find them.

Untold numbers perish; nearly all of the more than two dozen survivors interviewed by The Associated Press news agency told of people in their groups, who simply vanished into the Sahara.

“Women were lying dead, men… Other people got missing in the desert because they didn’t know the way,” said Janet Kamara, who was pregnant at the time.

“Everybody was just on their own.”

In a voice almost devoid of feeling, she recalled at least two nights in the open before her group was rescued, but said she lost track of time.

“I lost my son, my child,” said Kamara, who is Liberian.

Another woman in her early twenties also went into labor and lost her baby, she said.

Libya’s southwestern tip in the Sahara bordering Algeria and Niger has turned into an open door for migrants and refugees from sub-Saharan countries heading for Europe. [File: Reuters]

Algeria’s mass expulsions have picked up since October 2017, as the European Union renewed pressure on North African countries to head off migrants and refugees going north to Europe via the Mediterranean Sea or the barrier fences with Spain.

An EU spokesperson said the EU was aware of what Algeria was doing, but that “sovereign countries” can expel migrants and refugees as long as they comply with international law.

‘Tossed into the desert’

Unlike Niger, Algeria takes none of the EU money intended to help with the migration and refugee crisis, although it did receive $111.3m in aid from Europe between 2014 and 2017.

Algeria provides no figures for its involuntary expulsions. But the number of people crossing on foot to Niger has been increasing since the International Organization for Migration (IOM) started counting in May 2017, when 135 people were dropped, to as high as 2,888 in April 2018.

WATCH: Italy – More than 900 rescued refugees arrive in Sicily (2:27)

In all, according to the IOM, a total of 11,276 men, women and children survived the march.

At least another 2,500 were forced on a similar trek into neighbouring Mali, with an unknown number succumbing along the way.

The migrants and refugees AP talked to described being rounded up hundreds at a time, crammed into trucks for hours to what is known as Point Zero, then dropped in the desert and pointed towards Niger. They walk, sometimes at gunpoint.

“There were people who couldn’t take it. They sat down and we left them. They were suffering too much,” said Aliou Kande, an 18-year-old from Senegal.

Kande said nearly a dozen people gave up, collapsing in the sand. His group of 1,000 wandered from 8am until 7pm, he said. He never saw the missing people again.

“They tossed us into the desert, without our telephones, without money,” he said.

“There is no mercy”

The migrants and refugees’ accounts are confirmed by videos collected by the AP over months, which show hundreds of people stumbling away from lines of trucks and buses, spreading wider and wider through the desert.

Two individuals told AP gendarmes fired on them, and multiple videos seen by AP showed armed, uniformed men standing guard.

Liberian Ju Dennis filmed his deportation with a phone he kept hidden on his body. It shows people crammed on the floor of an open truck, vainly trying to shade their bodies from the sun and hide from the gendarmes. He narrated every step of the way in a hushed voice.

WATCH: The perils and struggles of Mediterranean migration (2:32)

“You’re facing deportation in Algeria – there is no mercy,” he said. “I want to expose them now…We are here, and we saw what they did. And we got proof.”

Algerian authorities have refused to comment. But Algeria has in the past denied criticism that it is committing rights abuses by abandoning migrants and refugees in the desert, calling the allegations a “malicious campaign” intended to inflame neighbouring countries.

‘Swift killer’

The Sahara is a swift killer that leaves little evidence behind. The IOM has estimated that for every person known to have died crossing the Mediterranean, as many as two are lost in the desert – potentially upwards of 30,000 people since 2014.

The vast flow of people puts an enormous strain on all the points along the route.

WATCH: Over 1,500 refugees and migrants reach Spain (2:03)

“They come by the thousands. This time, the expulsions that I’m seeing, I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Alhoussan Adouwal, an IOM official who has taken up residence in Assamaka to send out the alert when a new group arrives.

He then tries to arrange rescue for those still in the desert. “It’s a catastrophe.”

Most choose to leave by IOM bus for the town of Arlit, about six hours to the south through soft sand. And then on to Agadez, the Nigerien city that has been a crossroads for African trade and migration for generations.

Ultimately, they will return to their home countries on IOM-sponsored flights.

Even as these migrants and refugees move south, they cross paths with some who are making the trip north towards Algeria and Europe.

Every Monday evening, dozens of pickups filled with the hopeful pass through a checkpoint at the edge of the city.

They are fully loaded with water and people gripping sticks, their eyes are firmly fixed on the future.


SOURCE: AP news agency

Go to Original – aljazeera.com

Share this article:

DISCLAIMER: The statements, views and opinions expressed in pieces republished here are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of TMS. In accordance with title 17 U.S.C. section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. TMS has no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of this article nor is TMS endorsed or sponsored by the originator. “GO TO ORIGINAL” links are provided as a convenience to our readers and allow for verification of authenticity. However, as originating pages are often updated by their originating host sites, the versions posted may not match the versions our readers view when clicking the “GO TO ORIGINAL” links. This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of environmental, political, human rights, economic, democracy, scientific, and social justice issues, etc. We believe this constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more information go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond ‘fair use’, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

Comments are closed.