International

Algeria has abandoned more than 13,000 people in Sahara Desert in past 14 months

Migrants and locals wait for trucks arriving from Algeria to unload their cargo in order to earn money to pay for the trip north, at a giant desert trading post called

Migrants and locals wait for trucks arriving from Algeria to unload their cargo in order to earn money to pay for the trip north, at a giant desert trading post called "The Dune" in the no-man's land separating Niger and Algeria north of the Assamaka border post in northern Niger.   | Photo Credit: AP

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Untold numbers perish in the unforgiving desert, where they are left without food or water, including pregnant women and children.

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 can be seen coming over the horizon by the hundreds, appearing at first as specks in the distance under temperatures of up to 48° Celsius.

In Niger, where the majority head, the lucky ones limp across a desolate 15-kilometer no-man’s-land to the border village of Assamaka. Others wander for days before a U.N. rescue squad can find them. Untold numbers perish; nearly all of the more than two dozen survivors interviewed by the Associated Press told of people in their groups who simply vanished into the Sahara.

A migrant who was expelled from Algeria sits in a transit center in Arlit, Niger on Friday, June 1, 2018. The only certainty about him is that he was expelled from Algeria with thousands of others before ending up in this transit camp in the decaying mining town in the heart of the Sahara.

A migrant who was expelled from Algeria sits in a transit center in Arlit, Niger on Friday, June 1, 2018. The only certainty about him is that he was expelled from Algeria with thousands of others before ending up in this transit camp in the decaying mining town in the heart of the Sahara.   | Photo Credit: AP

“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 the Liberian.

Another woman in her early 20s also went into labour and lost her baby, she said.

A migrant in a transit center in Arlit, Niger, on Thursday, May, 31, 2018. The International Organization for Migration normally organises transport home for the men, women and children who have been expelled from Algeria. But with no name, confirmed nationality or family to claim him, the anonymous man was trapped in the compound.

A migrant in a transit center in Arlit, Niger, on Thursday, May, 31, 2018. The International Organization for Migration normally organises transport home for the men, women and children who have been expelled from Algeria. But with no name, confirmed nationality or family to claim him, the anonymous man was trapped in the compound.   | Photo Credit: AP

In this Tuesday, May 8, 2018 photo provided by Liberian migrant Ju Dennis, Algerian gendarmes load migrants onto trucks to drop them off at the Niger border.

In this Tuesday, May 8, 2018 photo provided by Liberian migrant Ju Dennis, Algerian gendarmes load migrants onto trucks to drop them off at the Niger border.   | Photo Credit: AP

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

A EU spokesperson said they were aware of what Algeria was doing but added that “sovereign countries” can expel migrants as long as they complied with international law. Unlike Niger, Algeria takes none of the EU money intended to help with the migration crisis, although it did receive $111.3 million 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. 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 neighboring Mali, with an unknown number succumbing along the way.

A migrant who was expelled from Algeria is restrained by others as he attempted to undress in the midst of a transit center in Arlit, Niger, on June 2, 2018. Gently and firmly, he was restrained and his trousers belted. They had spent the previous evening bathing him.

A migrant who was expelled from Algeria is restrained by others as he attempted to undress in the midst of a transit center in Arlit, Niger, on June 2, 2018. Gently and firmly, he was restrained and his trousers belted. They had spent the previous evening bathing him.   | Photo Credit: AP

Migrants climb onto a truck to head north into Algeria at the Assamaka border post in northern Niger on June 3, 2018.

Migrants climb onto a truck to head north into Algeria at the Assamaka border post in northern Niger on June 3, 2018.   | Photo Credit: AP

Point Zero

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

Mr. Kande said nearly a dozen people gave up, collapsing in the sand. His group of 1,000 wandered from 8 a.m. until 7 p.m., he said. He never saw the missing people again. “They tossed us into the desert, without our telephones, without money,” he said.

A migrant expelled from Algeria at a transit center in Arlit, Niger, on June 2, 2018.

A migrant expelled from Algeria at a transit center in Arlit, Niger, on June 2, 2018.   | Photo Credit: AP

Janet Kamara from Liberia is seen seated during an interview conducted in an International Organization for Migration transit center in Arlit, Niger, on June 2, 2018. Ms. Kamara was expelled from Algeria, and left stranded in the Sahara when she was pregnant. “Our baby was killed, women were lying dead, men. ... Other people got missing in the desert because they didn't know the way,” she says. “Everybody was just on their own.”

Janet Kamara from Liberia is seen seated during an interview conducted in an International Organization for Migration transit center in Arlit, Niger, on June 2, 2018. Ms. Kamara was expelled from Algeria, and left stranded in the Sahara when she was pregnant. “Our baby was killed, women were lying dead, men. ... Other people got missing in the desert because they didn't know the way,” she says. “Everybody was just on their own.”   | Photo Credit: AP

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

“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.”

Migrants and locals wait for trucks arriving from Algeria to unload their cargo.

Migrants and locals wait for trucks arriving from Algeria to unload their cargo.   | Photo Credit: AP

Isaac Solomon, 40, from Nigeria, waits for medical attention at the International Organization for Migration transit center in Arlit, Niger, on May 31, 2018. Solomon was expelled from Algeria, and like thousands of others, was abandoned deep in the Sahara Desert without water and food, forcing him to walk under the blistering sun before being picked up by the International Organization for Migration.

Isaac Solomon, 40, from Nigeria, waits for medical attention at the International Organization for Migration transit center in Arlit, Niger, on May 31, 2018. Solomon was expelled from Algeria, and like thousands of others, was abandoned deep in the Sahara Desert without water and food, forcing him to walk under the blistering sun before being picked up by the International Organization for Migration.   | Photo Credit: AP

Algeria terms allegations ‘malicious’

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

The Sahara is a swift killer that leaves little evidence behind. The International Organization for Migration has estimated that for every migrant 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 migrants puts an enormous strain on all the points along the route.

Ju Dennis from Liberia holds his phone with which he filmed his plight through the Sahara after being expelled from Algeria, in an International Organization for Migration transit camp in the northern Nigerien desert city of Arlit on June 1, 2018.

Ju Dennis from Liberia holds his phone with which he filmed his plight through the Sahara after being expelled from Algeria, in an International Organization for Migration transit camp in the northern Nigerien desert city of Arlit on June 1, 2018.   | Photo Credit: AP

“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 6 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 move south, they cross paths with some who are making the trip north toward 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.

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Printable version | Dec 10, 2019 4:27:17 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/algeria-has-abandoned-more-than-13000-people-in-the-sahara/article24252273.ece

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