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News > World

Algeria Shows Air-Conditioned Expulsion Buses to Tackle Criticism

  • Migrants deported from Algeria gather to retrieve their belongings at the International Organization for Migration transit center in Agadez, Niger, May 6, 2016.

    Migrants deported from Algeria gather to retrieve their belongings at the International Organization for Migration transit center in Agadez, Niger, May 6, 2016. | Photo: Reuters

Published 4 July 2018

More than 33,000 migrants have been repatriated since 2014, according to an Algerian official.

Accused of dumping thousands of migrants at the border in the desert, Algeria responded by opening up the doors of its air-conditioned expulsion buses to try to allay criticism of its treatment of deportees.

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Rights groups have accused the Algerian authorities of arbitrarily arresting and deporting migrants from sub-Saharan Africa, sometimes abandoning them without water or food in the desert.

The government denies the allegations and invited the media on the trip of more than 2,000 kilometers from the outskirts of Algiers, where the more than 350 migrants arrested across northern Algeria were held.

The majority were Nigeriens, including women and children, while others said they were from Mali, Cameroon and Guinea.

"I don't want to return to Niger," said Abdelkader Adam, 56, who told AFP he had sent money to his family during the 14 months he worked in construction in Tizi Ouzou, 100 kilometres east of Algiers. "I need to feed my two wives and my seven children who are there... I will do everything to come back to Algeria."

Traveling in a convoy of a dozen buses, the 27-hour journey to a transit center included a stop where Red Cross volunteers distributed food and nappies. After resting overnight at In Salah, 1,300 kilometers from Algiers, the migrants being followed by the media continued their journey south to a center at Tamanrasset, where a local official defended the government's policy.

But many rights groups have expressed alarm at the treatment of migrants, which the Algerian government claimed was just a "malicious campaign."

People interviewed by Human Rights Watch described being rounded up on the streets or at construction sites where they worked. They accused the police of beatings and stealing their belongings and said they were driven to the border and forced to walk through the desert.

AFP was not authorized to continue south beyond Tamanrasset and observe the border crossing — the point at which international organizations claim migrants are forced to walk through the desert with sometimes-deadly consequences.

Algerian authorities said the group of 354 Nigeriens, including 197 children and 77 women, was taken across the border to Assamaka on Monday. They were then transferred to the city of Agadez, under a deal with the Nigerien government. Those of other nationalities had to be "released", an official from Algeria's interior ministry said without giving further details.

The United Nations migration agency said its officials have seen "migrants emerging from the desert in the thousands", including pregnant women, at the Nigerien border town of Assamaka. "IOM routinely sends search and rescue missions to pick up severely dehydrated and disoriented migrants who have been looking for shelter for days at a time," the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said last week.

Last year, an anonymous online campaign blamed African migrants for taking jobs and spreading the HIV virus that causes AIDS. Algiers has claimed numerous sub-Saharan Africans are begging on the streets. A hashtag “No to Africans in Algeria” was also widely shared on Twitter and Facebook, calling for expulsions to protect Algerian families and prevent “chaos.”

The migrants already present in the economy tend to work illegally and are very often underpaid, human rights groups say. African migrants in Algeria are mostly from Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso and have come to escape acute poverty and terrorism back home. Some use Algeria as a transit country en route to Europe via neighboring Libya.

About 83 percent of children from sub-Saharan Africa trying to reach Europe through Libya were at risk of exploitation and trafficking compared to around 56 percent of those from elsewhere, with racism a significant contributing factor behind the discrepancy according to an IOM report issued last September. 

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