By Tom Miles and Lamine Chikhi
GENEVA/ALGIERS (Reuters) – The United Nations on Tuesday urged Algeria to stop rounding up and expelling sub-Saharan migrants, highlighting an influx of immigrants from Mali and Niger that Algeria says it needs U.N. help to address.
Hassen Kacimi, a senior official at Algeria’s Interior Ministry, told Reuters on Saturday that Algeria had called for help from the international community, while the United Nations had done little to save the migrants.
U.N. spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani told a regular U.N. briefing in Geneva that deportations and expulsions have increased markedly since the second half of 2017, and a U.N. human rights team went to Niger to investigate this month.
“What they heard was that Algerian authorities frequently carry out mass round-ups of sub-Saharan African migrants in various parts of the country,” Shamdasani said.
Of 25 migrants interviewed by the U.N. team, only one had had her passport checked before being expelled. Most had been told to put thumbprints on Arabic documents they could not read.
Most were not told why they were being detained and were not allowed to pick up their belongings, passports or money before being expelled. Some were taken straight to Niger, others were held in military bases, in inhuman and degrading conditions, before being taken south.
“(Some) are crammed into big trucks to be transferred to the Nigerien border where they are abandoned and left to walk hours in the desert heat to cross the border into Niger,” she said.
Algeria says it faces a huge influx of migrants.
SURGE OF MIGRATION
“A surge of migration is invading the south of Algeria,” Kacimi said. “Before reaching Algeria, the migrants are abandoned in the desert, and it is Algeria that rescues them by offering humanitarian aid.“
“Algeria is not responsible for the population of other states,” Kacimi said. “So whoever wants to cry over the outgoing migrants just (has) to put their hand in their pocket.”
Algeria, which has a 2,500 km (1,550 mile) border with Mali and Niger, spent $20 million in the past three years to handle an influx of illegal migrants from the Sahel region fleeing war, insecurity or poverty.
“Where is the UNHCR, where is the IOM, and where are the African states?” Kacimi said.
The U.N. migration agency IOM has rescued about 3,000 migrants in the area in the past four months, including some trying to get into Algeria and some being expelled, IOM spokesman Joel Millman said.
Many said it was not unusual for them to be dropped as much as 30 km (19 miles) from the border, in 45 degree Celsius (113F) heat, often without water and carrying children.
“Many of them report seeing migrants who have lost their lives, often unrecorded or unrecognised in the sand dunes,” Millman said.
(Writing by Tom Miles, Editing by William Maclean)