Algeria stops expelling refugees into Sahara after condemnation

Migrants deported_from_Algeria
Migrants deported from Algeria

Algeria has nearly stopped the expulsions of refugees into the Sahara Desert after widespread anger and the dismissal of several senior security officials.

Late last month, the Associated Press quoted officials with the UN’s International Organization for Migration as saying that the Algerian authorities abandoned more than 13,000 people, including women and children, in the desert borders that Algeria shares with Niger and Mali since May 2017.

Following the report, the expulsions to the dangerous region have now all but ended.

The report said Algeria had forced refugees by the hundreds nearly every week into the harsh region, and sometimes this led to deaths. The North African nation has refused repeated requests for comment.

The European Union also declined to comment. The expulsions came as Europe is pressuring North African governments to stop the refugees before they can cross the Mediterranean Sea into the continent.

However, an aid worker with contacts in Algeria, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the mass detentions continue, but now refugees, including pregnant women, are kept in overcrowded jails.

Algeria’s security forces came under fire after the report was revealed in June, with the head of the gendarmerie and the chief of national security both being sacked.

The UN high commissioner for human rights has also denounced the deadly expulsions in the desert.

Human Rights Watch also released an investigation into the forced desert marches. “Algeria has the power to control its borders, but that doesn’t mean it can round up people based on the color of their skin and dump them in the desert, regardless of their legal status and without a shred of due process,” Sarah Leah Whitson of Human Rights Watch said in a statement.

According to videos filmed by the refugees themselves, they were seen fanning out across the open desert, stumbling through heat that reaches above 50 degrees Celsius in summer as Algerian gendarmes with guns ensured they did not turn back. Migrants reported that deaths took place during the forced march, which sometimes lasted days.

The deplorable situation of the migrants in the Sahara Desert had been an open secret among aid workers as well as governments in Africa and Europe even before the report.

The African Union had already denounced Algeria’s policies toward migrants in a statement in May. “We cannot accept African countries ill-treating Africans, even if they enter the country illegally,” the Chairman of the AU Commission Moussa Faki Mahamat said this week in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa.