Algeria is continuing to abandon hundreds of African migrants in the Sahara Desert, despite the expulsions seeming to cease since a shocking Associated Press report last month.
Giuseppe Loprete, the head of the UN’s International Organisation for Migration (IOM) in Niger, took to Twitter on Saturday to confirm the arrival of at least 391 migrants on the Algerian border from over 16 countries. Other rescue officials put the number closer to 600.
Loprete added that migrants told of being prevented from working in numerous Algerian cities, and instead were escorted to the border by bus, with many of their possessions confiscated, including their mobile phones. With little food and water, they were then instructed to walk to the border with Niger.
After a report last month revealed that Algeria had systematically ousted more than 13,000 people over the past 14 months, the expulsions seemed to have ceased, with officials in Mali reporting that the Algiers had made an effort to coordinate the movement of migrants, some of whom were also believed to have been sent to detention centres.
However, the latest arrivals indicate the policy has not changed.
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The Algerian government has consistently denied expelling migrants and slammed last month’s report as an attempt to tarnish Algeria’s name, with Interior Minister Noureddine Bedoui denouncing UN concerns as “a campaign of non-constructive and unfounded criticism” against his government.
“[Algeria] has always supported African migrants and spared no effort, including humanitarian, to lend them aid and assistance,” he said.
Algiers subsequently sent local journalists to cover the deportations, claiming their reports were proof of the humane treatment of migrants. However reporters were not permitted to travel beyond the detention centres where the migrants are held prior to their expulsion.
Since the beginning of the year, the IOM has conducted at least 18 rescue operations involving 3,000 people in the area. Untold numbers go missing in the desert, with many collapsing from exhaustion or thirst, as they walk in temperatures of over 40 degrees Celsius.
The IOM has estimated that for every person known to have died crossing the Mediterranean, as many as two people are lost in the Sahara, amounting to more than 30,000 people since 2014.
Algeria has faced increasing pressure from the EU to build centres to detain illegal immigrants and prevent their further travel to Europe, but has repeatedly rejected the proposal.
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