What I Have Seen at the Algeria-Niger Border
By Giuseppe Loprete, IOM Chief of Mission in Niger
Since 2017, my mission, IOM Niger, has been drawing attention to the thousands of migrants who reach the Algeria-Niger border, after having been abandoned by traffickers in the Sahara Desert. Migrants reach the border at Assamaka, a small village on Niger territory now the most used entry and exit point between Algeria and Niger.
Just over the past four months we’ve rescued and assisted about 3,000 migrants from all nationalities in West Africa. Most commonly the victims are from Mali, Guinea Conakry and Cameroon.
We notice three common scenarios:
1. Migrants are stopped by the police in Algeria while attempting to enter the country.
2. Migrants are expelled from Algeria after having been detected on construction sites or at other jobs where migrants toil, at times for several years.
3. Migrants coming back from Libya via Algeria to Niger.
All migrants — irrespective of their nationality or condition — tell us stories of abuse, threats and violence while on the road. IOM, as well as human rights organizations, are recording their stories.
Almost all migrants suffer from evident trauma; they don’t accept their condition and don’t understand why this is happening.
While showing scars on their bodies, some migrants repeat shocking descriptions of the abuses they’ve suffered.
“We are treated like animals,” one man told me. Said another: “People entered in my room to take me to the border, they threatened to rape my wife in front of me if I didn’t do what they were saying.” Another added: “there is a hunting going on, black Africans are chased for no reason.” And: “I had to leave all my savings there and now I’m going home empty-handed after having worked 7 years in Algeria.”
Once dropped by trucks 20–30 km from the border, migrants start walking under the heat at 45 C, usually without water, and often carrying children or what few belongings they manage to bring with them. There is only sand and desert around them, dunes where migrants have lost their lives — often unrecorded or recognized.
Some migrants have shared their videos, captured with their own mobile phones — perhaps to show families and friends back home just how dramatic their journey has been. Conditions in Algeria look harsh, chaotic images and sounds on their phones.
This short video shows a group of migrants who walked back to the border just days ago:
Once in Niger, migrants are shocked and they ask IOM staff to listen to their stories, they show these and many other videos as proof of what has happened to them. Migrants share images, photos and stories among them. Some are relieved to at least realize that they share the same experience with others, who also survived, and that together they can move forward. Psychologists, doctors and community mobilizers help them to go through this experience for preparing their return home.
Over 1,500 migrants are now in Agadez, Niger at the IOM transit centre hoping to reach home soon. Savings, spouses, children, clothes and dignity have been left behind. Now they want to go home, and they want their voices to be heard. IOM remains committed to help them.
This story was posted by Giuseppe Loprete