As borders between African states are closed due to the Corona crisis, deportations and pushbacks continue and thousands of migrants and refugees are stranded in transit countries such as Niger. Protests arise while people complain about bad living conditions inside camps and mismanagement by the IOM.
With the Corona crisis, many borders between African countries have been closed for travellers, including Algeria's and Libya's borders with Niger. The crisis threatens not only the health, but also the livelihoods of many people who are already living in precarious conditions.
At the same time, Algeria and Libya are maintaining their policy of deportation, at least partially, despite the Corona crisis and thousands of migrants and refugees are currently stranded in transit countries such as Niger in unbearable conditions.
According to a report by journalist Sofian Philip Nacer, about a hundred people were deported from eastern Libya to Sudan at the end of March. In the first half of April, the Libyan authorities in the east of the country sent at least 236 people back to Sudan, Mali, Somalia, Nigeria and Ghana.
Pushbacks and deportations from Algeria to Niger also continued despite the closure of the border between the two countries. Nigeria, for its part, is also pushing back citizens of Niger who were living on its territory.
Assamaka: Deportations and quarantine in the desert
According to the head of the Alarme Phone Sahara (APS) team in Assamaka, between 12th and 14th of April 2020, 302 migrants arrived in Assamaka. Among them are men and women and all of them are citizens of Niger, except one citizen of Guinea Conakry.
All these people were placed in a 14-day quarantine in the IOM shed under the regulations to prevent the spread of the Corona virus. The figures also correspond with IOM's statement that a total of 418 people were in quarantine in Assamaka on 16th of April.
IOM shed in Assamaka (photo taken before Corona crisis)
The office of Medecins Sans Frontieres explained that these confined people are not deportees, but workers on their way home. Nevertheless, Alarme Phone Sahara's whistleblowers assume that they were in fact deported from Algeria. For some time now, Algerian security forces have had the common practice, when deporting people to Niger, not only to organise deportation convoys officially declared to the Niger authorities, but also to abandon many unofficially deported people at "Point Zero" in the border area. People must then walk across the desert to the border post of Assamaka. According to Alarme Phone Sahara's whistleblowers, it is this kind of undeclared deportation that the people currently confined to the IOM hangar in Assamaka have suffered.
Alarme Phone Sahara also condemns the conditions under which people expelled from Algeria are kept in quarantine for two weeks: Assamaka is a small town in the middle of the desert. The IOM shed and the medical care capacities on the spot are not sufficient for the proper care of hundreds of people who are often injured, sick and psychologically traumatized after the painful and violent experiences during the deportation.
People blocked in IOM camps, prostests in the face of growing discontent
Hundreds of migrants and refugees are currently stranded at the IOM transit centre in Arlit and also in IOM and UNHCR camps in and around Agadez. In several places, people have started to protest in the face of growing frustration:
In Arlit, where nearly 640 people according to IOM figures, mostly migrants who have been deported from Algeria, have been placed, people protested and revolted against the unbearable conditions on 20 April.
According to one of the migrants interviewed by the journalist Fatma Ben Hamad for "Obesrvateurs France 24", their protest and revolt was due to the lack of dialogue with IOM officials, who manage the camp in Arlit.
In the situation they are in, the people now want to return to their countries, including Mali, Nigeria, Guinea Conakry, Benin and Cameroon, but these countries, for their part, closed their borders during the Corona crisis. IOM, for its part, says it is not in a position to facilitate the return of migrants who are stranded in Niger at this time, but migrants at the Arlit camp point out that since their arrival, no IOM official has come to talk to them and their situation remains unclear.
According to the man interviewed by "Observateurs France 24", living conditions in the IOM camp are also unbearable: When they arrived from Assamaka, the migrants had no drinking water or mattresses and only four tents for more than 900 people. In addition, they had not received hygiene kits with soaps and towels, which is why upset people forced their way into IOM shops during their revolt to get the necessary supplies.
According to "Observateurs France 24", the police reacted with repression: Tear gas was fired at the migrants, at least 13 people were arrested and taken to the police station, where they were still on 24th of April.
A group of migrants from Mali, according to their own statement 276 people, who were expelled from Algeria to Niger on 4 March 2020 and who are currently at the IOM Transit Centre in Agadez, addressed the people, authorities and the President of Mali in a video statement. They complain that so far they have not found any solution for their return to Mali and they stress that they are very worried about the health situation in Niger. So they urgently ask for help to return to Mali.
256 migrants, according to IOM figures, who were brought back from the Libyan border to Agadez at the beginning of April 2020, were confined to the Sidi Mohamed Regional Stadium in Agadez for two weeks. Alarme Phone Sahara whistleblowers report that these people were first denied access to Libya by Libyan forces, before being intercepted by Nigerian security forces and taken to Agadez. According to Aïr Info Agadez, on 10th of April 2020, forty-three of these people fled the stadium, which gives a strong impression that their confinement took place in conditions of lack of transparency and lack of respect for their rights.
Dan Issa, border between Niger and Nigeria
On several occasions, citizens of Niger who have returned from Nigeria, among them also people forcibly returned, have arrived in Dan Issa on the border between Niger and Nigeria.
According to Tiémogo Amadou of the Niger Press Agency in Maradi, a first group of 103 people, composed of women, men and children, arrived on 22nd of April 2020 and the following days, other 148 citizens of Niger who had come from the federal states of Kano, Katsina, Lagos and the Republic of Cameroon were joined. All these people were quarantined in Dan Issa for the prevention of Corona, before being given the opportunity to return to their various communities.
This case shows that the Corona crisis also aggravates the situation of many people who are migrating not to Europe, but between sub-Saharan African countries to earn a living.
Freedom of movement and the right to good health for all - also in the times of Corona!
While deportations and pushbacks continue, thousands of migrants and refugees who have been deported or stopped along the way are currently stranded in Niger. Stuck in camps in unbearable living conditions where their health is in danger, with no prospect of arriving at a place that allows them a life in dignity - and now even deprived of the possibility to return to their countries.
The deplorable situation of migrants and refugees now trapped in Niger and other African countries is a direct result of the migration policies of European countries which not only let migrants and refugees die in the Mediterranean, but which have been seeking to externalise their borders on the African continent for years. Billions of Euros were invested in the Maghreb countries and Niger to stop migrants and refugees along the way and to force them to return to their countries of origin. In Corona time, this policy of closing roads and borders became a trap for thousands of people.
Alarme Phone Sahara is strongly opposed to a situation where migrants and refugees remain confined, blocked and "forgotten" in camps, exposed to the risk of infection more than anywhere else and deprived of their freedom and rights.
In this sense, Alarme Phone Sahara also condemns the obvious mismanagement on the part of the IOM, an international organization that has considerable financial resources, but is unable to accommodate migrants and refugees stranded in Niger in conditions of dignity, transparency and respect for their rights.
Alarme Phone Sahara stands in solidarity with all those who resist for their right to health, their right to freedom, their right to life.
Faced with this situation, Alarme Phone Sahara calls on the IOM and the authorities of Niger:
- No confinement of refugees and migrants in desert camps, no confinement in intransparent and unbearable conditions.
- Accommodation of all refugees and migrants on the territory of Niger in dignified conditions that respect their rights, their freedom and also the protection of their health against the risks imposed by Corona virus.
- A clear and transparent communication concerning all preventive measures against Corona virus and the possibility of return of people to their countries of origin.
- To take all possible measures to facilitate the return of migrants and refugees stranded on the territory of Niger to their countries of origin for those who want to return of their own free will.
- Not to intercept any people by force who seek to continue their journey.
Alarme Phone Sahara calls on the authorities of Algeria, Libya and Nigeria:
- Immediately stop all kinds of raids, pushbacks and deportations of migrants and refugees.
- To respect the life and rights of all migrants and refugees on their territory and to let them live in dignified conditions that also allow them to protect their health against the Corona virus.
Alarme Phone Sahara calls on the authorities of the states of Europe:
- All measures to close and externalize borders must be stopped in the face of the Corona crisis.
- Instead, European states must immediately invest in measures to create dignified living conditions for all migrants and refugees currently stranded in African countries and to protect their health against the Corona virus.
- In the face of the humanitarian crisis that is worsening with the Corona pandemic, European states must actively help evacuate refugees and migrants stranded in camps run by IOM, UNHCR and other actors and facilitate their arrival in a place where they can live in safety and dignity. Either that to return to their countries for those who wish to do so, or that to go to a country of their own choice, while respecting the right to free movement of persons.