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13 October 2020 – Algeria

Human Rights Watch, “Algeria: Migrants, Asylum Seekers Forced Out,” 9 October 2020,
Human Rights Watch, “Algeria: Migrants, Asylum Seekers Forced Out,” 9 October 2020,

According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), between early September and early October Algerian authorities expelled more than 3,400 people from at least 20 countries, including 430 children and 240 women, all of whom were sent to Niger. The expulsions followed waves of arrests in no fewer than nine cities, during which children were reportedly separated from their families by security personnel, migrants and asylum seekers were stripped of their belongings, and no efforts were made to screen people for vulnerabilities or protection needs. HRW reported that Algerian authorities crammed Nigeriens into trucks or buses and handed them over to Niger’s army, while convoys of mixed nationalities were reportedly left in the desert near the border.

As reported previously on this platform, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic did not deter Algeria from continuing to expel migrants, in contrast to other countries in the region (see 29 May and 15 April Algeria updates on this platform). However, the recent roundups and mass expulsions appear to represent a sharp uptick in these operations. So far this year, Algeria has deported more than 16,000 people, with Nigeriens making up a little over half of all deportees.

On 1 October 2020, Algeria’s Interior Ministry announced a new operation to combat “illegal migration,” claiming it respected human rights. However, on 3 October Algeria expelled 705 adults and children of 18 nationalities to the desert, followed by the forcible return of 957 Nigeriens in a convoy on 5 October, and the expulsion of 660 people of 17 nationalities to the desert on 8 October.

Prior to their expulsions, migrants and asylum seekers were detained in police stations, holding centres, and camps. According to HRW, while all the Nigerien convoys are conducted in-line with a 2014 bilateral oral agreement, mass expulsions of mixed-nationality groups to the border are not. Niger’s Interior Ministry stated that they had asked Algeria to refrain from expelling non-Nigerien nationals to their border.

Six migrants told HRW that Algerian authorities deported them to the border without any due process. In addition, three of the migrants reported that police or gendarmes beat them or their friends during the roundups or in detention. Two migrants said they saw authorities destroy other migrants’ documents during the roundups. All six migrants said the authorities had confiscated everything they had on them, including phones and money, and never returned any of it.

Non-African nationals have also been expelled in this manner, including Yemeni, Syrian, and Palestinian asylum seekers. According to HRW, of the 3,400 migrants expelled by Algeria between 5 September and 8 October, around 1,800 were Nigeriens driven into Niger in “official” convoys; the remaining 1,600 people–mostly West and Central Africans, in addition to 23 Sudanese, two Somalis, two Eritreans, two Mauritians, one Pakistani, and one Libyan–were left at the border. HRW stated that the Algerian military stripped migrants of all their personal belongings, abandoning them and ordering them to walk 15 kilometers to Assamaka. Migrants expelled in July described similar experiences: “they pushed us into the desert and left us there, saying: ‘this is the way to Niger’. I had no shoes; I walked barefoot. It took us five or six hours.”

Some of the deported migrants stated that Algerian authorities adopted certain measures to avoid the spread of COVID-19 by undertaking temperature checks, wearing or distributing masks, and disinfecting vehicles. Yet, others have contested this saying no precautions were taken. None of the deported migrants reported any coronavirus testing procedures. As HRW noted, by placing hundreds of migrants together while denying them access to medical care, and deporting large groups of people without testing for COVID-19, Algeria has put many lives at risk. On 23 July, four Sahrawi refugees reportedly tested positive for COVID-19.

HRW denounced the practice stating that as a party to the UN Migrant Workers Convention, Algeria is prohibited from conducting collective expulsions and should examine each case individually. In addition, HRW emphasised that as a party to the UN and African Refugee Convention and the Convention Against Torture, Algeria is bound by the principle of non-refoulement, prohibiting the forced return of anyone to countries where they could face torture or threats to their lives or freedom. This means that governments should ensure that asylum seekers’ claims are fully examined before initiating any removal proceedings.

As regards the country’s prisons, as of 22 May, 150 correctional officers had reportedly resigned from their positions since the end of February protesting against the lack of protective equipment. Following the death of a prisoner in April at the Koléa prison (see 6 May Algeria update on this platform), two other prisoners died from COVID-19 at the El Harrach prison in mid-July. On 29 July however, several prisoners and staff members tested positive for the virus in the El Harrach prison: some were transferred to a hospital while others were cared for in the prison.