Human Rights Watch Criticizes Algerian Security For “Forcing Out” Thousands Of Migrants To Niger

In a report by Human Rights Watch, the Algerian authorities have been criticized for rounding up and expelling migrants and asylum seekers to Niger. It was reported that thousands of migrants were crammed on to trucks and buses despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

According to humanitarian organizations, since September there have been over 3,400 migrants expelled from Algeria to Niger, with only around half of the migrants of Nigerien nationality with others being of at least 20 other nationalities. These organizations say that the 3,400 migrants expelled include 430 children and 240 women making the total number of people expelled this year over 16,000. Migrants report the police going into their homes and work sites, apprehending them and stripping them of their belongings, then abandoning them at a location known as “Point Zero,” and ordering them to walk 15 kilometres to Niger. Security personnel also failed to allow them to challenge their removal or screen them for refugee status despite many arrested being registered asylum seekers with the UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency.

On the 1st of October, Algeria’s interior minister claimed that its new operation to combat “illegal migration” respected human rights. However, Lauren Seibert, refugee and migrant rights researcher at Human Rights Watch said, “Algeria is entitled to protect its borders, but not to arbitrarily detain and collectively expel migrants, including children and asylum seekers, without a trace of due process,” adding that “before moving to deport anyone, authorities should verify their immigration or asylum status individually and ensure individual court reviews.” Although Nigerien convoys are conducted under a 2014 bilateral oral agreement, expulsions of mixed-nationality groups are not. In 2018, Niger’s interior minister asked the Algerian authorities to stop rounding up and expelling migrants, as did the United Nations, but to no avail.

Whilst the spike in mass expulsions is already abhorrent, the mistreatment and violence caused by the Algerian authorities should be condemned by the international community. During these mass arrests, security have separated children from their families and, according to Nigerien aid workers, have left injuries on arriving migrants’ bodies consistent with abuse. This is not acceptable. These alleged abuses should be investigated and stopped immediately.

This is not a first for Algeria. Authorities have carried out waves of deportation in the past two years; estimates suggest 25,000 migrants were deported to Niger in 2018 and a further 25,000 in 2019. The recent expulsions are the largest since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, but Algeria had not fully stopped deporting migrants even during the official border closures in March. Under the UN and African Refugee Conventions, Algeria is prohibited from the forced return of anyone to countries where they could face torture or threats to their lives or freedom, and therefore authorities should fully examine asylum seeker claims before deportation.

The Algerian government must immediately halt mass arrests and expulsions and investigate asylum claims and legal processing of migrants. As this is not a first for Algeria, the international community, including the UN, must step in and pressurize the government towards the fair treatment of migrants who find themselves in Algeria.

Cait Jobson