Humanitarian CrisesNews

West African Migrants Stranded In Niger Suffering In ‘Open Prison’

Algeria has deported thousands of people from Central and West Africa, dumping them at the border with Niger, where the migrants remain in dire conditions.

Over 4,600 migrants deported from Algeria to Assamaka, a community in northern Niger have been stranded with no humanitarian aid or protection.

Many of them arrived on foot from Jan. 11 to Mar. 3, the migrants have been stranded for weeks without shelter, health care, and basic necessities, Medecins San Frontieres/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) say.

“The situation is worrying,” Schemssa Kimana, MSF’s field coordinator in Agadez says. She adds that migrants are at great risk of severe health outcomes due to extreme temperatures and lack of adequate shelter.

Deportations in Algeria 

According to a report by the New Humanitarian, Algeria has become a country of transit or destination for many African refugees and asylum seekers. 

Despite this, the country is said to lack a clear legal framework to govern migrants which has made it difficult for migrants to standardise their status in Algeria. This is occurring in the midst of authorities treating irregular migrations as criminal offences that are punishable by up to five years in detention and deportation.

The report noted that since 2017, the country began emptying itself of asylum seekers and refugees especially from Central and West Africa, dumping them at their border with Niger, “many of them have been left to walk distances of up to 30 km (18 miles),” it said.

In February, exactly 899 migrants from Guinea, Benin, Mali, Côte d’Ivoire, Nigeria, Senegal, The Gambia, Sierra Leone, Cameroon, Burkina Faso and also Costa Rica were deported. This summed up the number of migrants deported to 2,298 in three days, Feb. 10, 12 and 14.

Those who have been detained are said to also suffer inhumane conditions in detention centres. This has come under severe backlash from humanitarian actors who have consistently called out Algerian authorities for totally ignoring basic human rights including rights for asylum.

Deported migrants remain vulnerable

Assamaka –where migrants have been stranded for weeks– is an arid town in North Niger’s Agadez region where temperatures are said to reach 48°C. This has led to people to seek shelter in unhygienic places which exposes them to severe health risks in addition to other vulnerabilities.

One of the migrants from Cameroon told MSF that there has not been information as to when they will be taken back to our country of origin. “It’s like being in an open-air prison. For the meals, what we receive is very badly prepared because there is more sand in it than food. It makes us sick and gives us diarrhoea and stomach aches,” the migrant quoted by MSF said.

According to the statement, the Integrated Health Centre in Assamaka which is supported by the organisation has become overwhelmed with thousands of migrants who are seeking shelter in the facility.

“There are people sleeping in every corner of the facility. Some have set up makeshift tents at the entrance or in the courtyard. Others are camping in front of the maternity ward, on the roof, or in the waste area,” Kimana says, adding that the situation is unprecedented.

The health organisation is calling on the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to immediately provide protection for people abandoned in extremely precarious conditions in Assamaka.

“This situation is now an emergency, it is untenable for anyone to remain living in these conditions.”

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Zubaida Baba Ibrahim

Zubaida Baba Ibrahim is a journalist and a creative writer. Her works have been featured on Daily Trust, Premium Times and Guardian. She also has experience in broadcast journalism and is a graduate of Mass Communication from Baze University, Abuja. She tweets through @zvbaida

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