According to the Associated Press, roughly 13,000 migrants were forcefully expelled from Algeria over the past 14 months and sent into the Sahara Desert. Although Algeria does not provide figures, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) began counting the number of people crossing into neighbouring Niger in 2017 and determined just over 11,000 people have survived the forced march. The expelled people are transported in cramped trucks and brought to the location known as ‘Point Zero,’ where the march, sometimes forced by gunpoint, begins for the migrants. Upon arrival, the surviving people have been reporting to local media sources about the human rights violations Algeria has been committing. The Associated Press confirmed the reports, along with the data collected by the IOM, such as videos of people by the hundreds walking away from lines of trucks and buses across the desert. Personal accounts from survivors describe people giving up by the dozens on the march and have never been seen again.
Aliou Kande, an 18-year old from Senegal who survived the march across the Sahara, said that “[t]here were people who couldn’t take it. They sat down and we left them. They were suffering too much.” Kande’s group wandered around the desert for 11 hours and never saw those who sat down again. He continued, “They tossed us into the desert, without our telephones, without money.” In a similar sentiment, Janet Kamara, another survivor who was pregnant at the time, said: “Women were lying dead, men … other people got missing in the desert because they didn’t know the way.”
The migrants have been forced to march through the desert in temperatures as high as 119 degrees Fahrenheit with no food or water. The IOM has been working in Niger to collect new groups of arrivals and to provide them with the necessary provisions for survival. The aim is to ultimately send them back to their home countries. Alhoussan Adouwal, an IOM official living in Assamaka, said: “They come by the thousands. This time, the expulsions that I’m seeing, I’ve never seen anything like it.”
The vast human rights violations committed by Algeria are known by the European Union (EU), whose member states have encouraged North African countries to head-off migrants going north to Europe, according to the Associated Press. Although Algeria received around $111 million in aid from Europe between 2014 and 2017, they have refused to accept EU money to assist in the ongoing migration crisis. The United Nations and other international institutions need to work with organizations such as the IOM to assist the migrants left in the desert, as well as work with Algeria to stop this atrocity. Europe and the rest of the world cannot ignore the ongoing death marches that have been acknowledged for over a year.
Moreover, according to a UNICEF migration profile, as of 2013, Algeria had 211,000 migrants within their national borders. The country has been a popular destination for sub-Saharan African migrants, who either find work in Algeria or use it to continue north to Europe. However, the Algerian government has repatriated 27,000 people since 2015 and claim they will continue to expel all migrants despite criticism from human rights organizations. Human Rights Watch (HRW) has condemned Algeria for deporting migrants in a degrading and harmful way without having their cases reviewed.
Algeria’s actions are overseen by powerful international actors and set a precedent for the treatment of migrants. Without rapid and serious action, thousands of migrants will continue to be expelled and face a similar fate to those already forced across the Sahara Desert.