(Beirut) – Algerian authorities have arbitrarily deported in the beginning of March more than a hundred migrants of various African nationalities into a lawless zone of neighboring Mali, where armed groups have robbed some of them, Human Rights Watch said today.
The Algerian authorities failed to adequately screen the migrants to determine their status and give them the opportunity to challenge their deportation, including those who might have refugee claims, and to collect their savings and belongings. A nongovernmental organization based in Gao, Mali, said that it had provided services to more than 125 of the recently arrived Migrants on March 6 and 7.
“Algeria should treat all migrants with respect and decency, give them a chance to challenge their deportation and not expose them to the risk of suffering inhuman treatment,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch.
Five migrants who had reached Mali told Human Rights Watch in separate phone interviews that police in the north-central Algerian city of Ghardaia rounded them up on March 1 at various places, including on the street, at a construction site, and in a welding workshop. They said that authorities did not inform them of their right to call their consular representatives or let them collect their wages, savings, and other belongings.
The police escorted them on buses to Bordj Badji Mokhtar, the last town before the Mali border, handing them to gendarmes, who trucked to the border and sent them over the border at gunpoint.
They said they walked in the desert for six hours to reach In Khalil, the first town in Mali, then took privately owned trucks heading toward the town of Gao. Although the migrants traveled in two separate convoys to Gao, they described being stopped at impromptu roadblocks manned by armed groups who robbed them. Some said that the groups beat some migrants who did not turn over money or valuables.
Armed militant groups linked to al-Qaeda operate in northern Mali, along with criminal gangs and armed smugglers. The United Nations Secretary General, in his September 2017 report on the situation in Mali, stated that “the prevailing insecurity undermines the rule of law and the provision of basic services, particularly in the north and in some parts of the centre.”
Since at least December 2016, Algeria has expelled thousands of sub-Saharan migrants, mostly to Niger. In February, Interior Minister Mohamed Bazoum of Niger, told RFI that Niger was “not a dumping ground for migrants from the whole of west Africa.”
Aristide Preira, local coordinator at Maison des Migrants (Migrant House, an association assisting migrants) in Gao, told Human Rights Watch that the 26 migrants who arrived from Algeria on March 6, included 20 Malians, 3 Gambians and 3 Guineans. The 101 who arrived on March 7 included 76 Malians, 3 Guineans, 5 Senegalese, 5 from Burkina Faso, and 12 from Côte d’Ivoire, he said. They included two children, ages 16 and 17. They told him they had had nothing to eat for three days, and some were hospitalized for acute dehydration, he said.
Mouhamed Soumah, 34, from Guinea, who was an accountant in his home country, moved to Ghardaia in July 2017, and worked on a construction site. He said that police detained him and two co-workers at the construction site on March 1, telling them it was just for an identity check.
But at the police station, they were transferred with dozens of other men to a warehouse after being denied permission to get their belongings or contact their consulates and were taken to Bordj Badji Mokhtar. From there, gendarmes took them on trucks to an area near the border and ordered them at gunpoint to march toward Mali.
At In Khalil, 26 of them managed to negotiate a paid transport on a private pick-up truck to Gao. Soumah said that, during their two-day journey to Gao, armed men who he believed were rebels stopped them several times and demanded money before letting them continue.
Ousmane Sigide, 25, and Mohamed Dembere, 27, both Malians, who were arrested with him, gave similar accounts.
Sokodu Seydou, 28, a Malian, said that he started working as a welder in Ghardaia in May 2017 without a residency permit. He said that plain-clothes police came to his work site on March 1, asking to see his papers. When he showed them his passport, they took him and two colleagues to a police station in Ghardaia, also denying him a chance to retrieve his money from his room and to contact consular officials.
He said that he and dozens of other detainees there were fed and not mistreated, but were taken on buses to Adrar. The police handed them to the gendarmes, who put them in a warehouse-like structure for the night, then taken with hundreds of other men on trucks close to the Mali border and ordered to walk toward the border.
They walked to Khalil, and about 100 of them paid a local driver to take them on a truck to Gao. He said they were stopped several times on the road to Gao by groups of 5 to 10 men holding rifles and wearing clothes with no distinctive insignia. At one stop, the men asked them to pay 15,000 CFA francs each (US$28). When he said he did not have the money, the men beat him and others who refused to pay, took their phones, then released them. Seydou said they arrived in Gao on March 7, after two days on the road.
The Algerian government has legitimate authority to deport undocumented migrants. But it must comply with international law. As a party to the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families (Migrants Workers’ Convention), Algeria is prohibited from collective expulsions of migrant workers and their families and is required to examine and rule on each potential expulsion individually. The convention applies to all migrant workers and their families, irrespective of their legal or work status.
The treaty obliges the country’s government to inform migrant workers and their families before expulsion of their right to contact their consular authorities, their right to challenge their expulsion before the competent authorities, and to suspend the removal until that challenge is decided. Furthermore, anyone fearing persecution or other serious harm in their home country has the right to seek asylum.
In addition, in case of expulsion, the convention states that “the person concerned shall have a reasonable opportunity before or after departure to settle any claims for wages and other entitlements due to him or her and any pending liabilities.”
The convention obliges state parties to respect the rights to liberty and security of migrant workers and members of their families.