Alarme Phone Sahara is a cooperation project of initiatives and individuals from the Sahel-Sahara zone and Europe. The project aims to protect the life and freedom of movement of migrants and refugees against repressive and often deadly migration policies. The activists of the Alarme Phone Sahara network live in Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso, Togo, Morocco, Germany, and Austria. The office of Alarme Phone Sahara is located in Agadez (Niger), a hub of migration between Sahel and Sahara. In the region, there is also a network of observers in small desert villages, who record the situation of migrants and try to support them.
Alarme Phone Sahara respects the decision of people to migrate or not and tries to provide them with reliable information.
To help people in need in the desert, Alarme Phone Sahara maintains a phone number and a whistleblower structure in the Agadez area. In cases of emergency, Alarme Phone Sahara alerts people within reach of the place or, if necessary, official rescue services, according to the available means.
The objectives of Alarme Phone Sahara
- Raising awareness for migrants and migration candidates of the risks of desert travel and how to increase their safety, as well as raising awareness about their rights;
- Documenting and visualising what actually happens on the migration routes in the Sahel-Sahara region: including crimes, human rights violations and harassment by security forces suffered by the migrants;
- Rescue of migrants in need in the desert;
- Condemning of regional, national and international policies that endanger the lives of migrants and attempt to violate the right to free movement;
- low-threshold social activities for migrants in Agadez.
Europe’s borders in Agadez
Deportations from Algeria
There are weekly deportations of hundreds of migrants of different nationalities from Algeria to the border of Niger – the so-called “Point Zero”. The deportees are usually transported in convoys of trucks by Algerian border police to the border area near the border crossing to Niger. From there, after an often traumatic experience, the deportees are forced to walk 15 to 20 kilometres through the desert to the border town of Assamakka, without water, food or any kind of support. According to the available information, the Nigerian authorities and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) sometimes – but not regularly and continuously – search for lost or collapsed persons in the Niger-Algerian border region. Alarme Phone Sahara is currently working to establish a permanent base in Assamakka to provide immediate supplies of water, first aid, basic food, and protection from the sun. In addition, a jeep will regularly search for people who are lost or exhausted in the desert. Among them are many weakened, sick or even pregnant people.
The statistics of our observer in Assamakka make the full extent of these deportations clear. From 23 September to 20 October 2019 alone, 3,231 people were deported from Algeria, forced across the border to Assamakka. Of the persons concerned, at least 754 were from Niger, 1,829 were from other African countries, and for 648 persons there is no information on their origin. Among those deported were at least 63 women, 82 underaged girls and 77 underaged boys.
Deportations from Algeria in an international context
Algeria has carried out mass deportations before, negotiating an agreement with Niger’s government in 2014 for the deportation of 3,000 people from Niger, for example. Algeria, like other Maghreb countries, is an important destination for seasonal labour migration from the Sahel. Despite diplomatic efforts, Algeria has not yet been persuaded to stop these mass deportations which are problematic in terms of human rights and international law. On the one hand, the Algerian state pursues its own interests through their harsh and ruthless policy against refugees and migrants and through satisfying racist tendencies in its own society. At the same time Algeria wishes to position itself as a reliable partner for the border regime of the European Union. It has no formal migration control agreement with them, but nevertheless receives large quantities of military and security material, such as surveillance technologies or vehicles, e.g. from the German car manufacturer Mercedes-Benz.
It is obvious: the deportations from Algeria to Niger result in a continuing drama of human rights violations against migrants and refugees. A tragedy that leads to death, injuries, and trauma. A tragedy from which Europe benefits. These deportations are convenient for Europe in that they reduce the number of potential candidates for migration across the Mediterranean.
Alarme Phone Sahara condemns the hunt for migrants in Algeria and other countries in the Maghreb region, which is taking place in the context of the outsourcing and externalizing of the European border regime and migration agreements between EU countries and African governments.
Alarme Phone Sahara calls on civil societies in the countries concerned to resist deportations and border pushbacks and to protect the lives, rights, and freedom of movement of migrants.
Alarme Phone Sahara also calls on the governments and parliaments of all affected countries, such as Mali and Guinea, to stand up for their citizens and to speak out clearly against mass deportations from Algeria.
Perseverance in Niger due to the border wall to the north
Since 2018/2019, an increasing number of refugees in Niger have been protesting against their inadequate protection and inadequate supplies. They demand resettlement. They are all refugees who have either fled the hardship and violence of Libya themselves or have been evacuated from Libyan prisons by the UNHCR. This is a constant cycle of protest and repression, of which the recent case of the burnt-down camp in Agadez in January 2020 is only the tip of the iceberg. The fight of the refugees in Niger is a very concrete response to the EU policy and its logic of shifting responsibility for the fate of people on the run. On its periphery and far beyond, the European asylum and migration regime creates repressive camp systems with inadequate protection and care. Everywhere, those affected respond with struggle and protest.
Refugee protest in Niamey
On 5 March 2019, Somali, Ethiopian and Eritrean refugees evacuated from Libya by the UNHCR demonstrated in Niamey, the capital of the Republic of Niger. They found themselves stranded and disappointed by the UNHCR’s promises of a speedy resettlement in Niger and protested against the way their cases were being treated by the UNHCR and the state of Niger. The protest was broken up by the Niger police with tear gas.
Protest by refugees from the camp near Niamey
On 20 June 2019, numerous evacuated refugees took advantage of the festivities of the authorities and the UNHCR on the occasion of World Refugee Day to protest. They denounced their living conditions in this camp, marked by the lack of water, food, and medicines. These refugees especially denounced the widespread occurrence of malaria throughout the camp.
Protest march into the desert of underage refugees
Sudanese minors who were in the UNHCR refugee camp in Agadez left the refugee camp on 18 July 2019 to march through the desert to Libya. Before heading out into the desert, they started a demonstration through the main streets of Agadez. They criticized that their asylum procedures had not progressed and that the UNHCR had not kept its promises to find solutions. The same day, the protesters were forcibly returned to the refugee camp by the police. However, the state of health of some of the young people was so worrying that they were admitted to hospital in Agadez.
Niamey: Sit-in of Sudanese refugees in front of the UNHCR headquarters
On November 13 2019, Sudanese refugees began a sit-in in front of the UNHCR headquarters in Niamey. They had refugee status in other countries such as Chad and Egypt, while their trials had not progressed in Niger for two years. These refugees called for a solution such as resettlement in a safe third country. Otherwise, they wished to be returned to the Libyan border. Since their last protest more than six months earlier, there has been no solution offered and no progress in their situation.
Refugees leave the camp and start a sit-in in front of the UNHCR in Agadez
Almost 1000 people – most of them Sudanese refugees – began a sit-in in front of the UNHCR in Agadez on 16 December 2019. One of the main reasons for the protests was that the situation had become unbearable in the UNHCR camp; the asylum procedures were not advanced, and there was no progress or improvement to be seen. In Niger, their asylum procedures had made little progress at local authority level. Living conditions in the UNHCR camps are very precarious in Niger, a country that is one of the poorest in the world. Again and again, the UNHCR has made promises to improve conditions in the camps in response to the protesters. So far, however, these have been empty words which have yet to be put into practice.
Agadez: UNHCR camp set on fire after weeks of unanswered protests by refugees
On January 4, 2020, the police violently dispersed the protest of the Sudanese refugees in Agadez and forced the people back to the UNHCR camp. It was only after this act of repression against this and prior peaceful demonstrations that the refugees set fire to the camp out of necessity and desperation. The majority of those affected are long-term refugees who have not been given effective protection since the beginning of the Darfur war and have experienced renewed violence in Libya. The Agadez public prosecutor brought charges against some 335 refugees who were arrested and imprisoned on charges of vandalism. To date (end of March 2020) it is still not clear whether the detainees have been released. Contact with the refugees has been broken off, as the police confiscated their telephones.
Background of the accumulating protest dynamics
All of these protests are a response by the affected people to a situation in which more and more refugees, who fled war and persecution in countries such as Sudan, Eritrea and Somalia and survived the prison camps in Libya, are being neglected in Niger. Most of these refugees are being denied resettlement in a safe third country.
This situation occurs in a context in which European states are trying to prevent the further migration of refugees to the Maghreb and Europe and instead, through the UNHCR, are building and financing a second-class asylum system in Niger. The state of Niger currently serves as a model for the outsourcing of Europe’s asylum system and receives considerable sums from EU Member States for migration control and refugee protection.
It is therefore all the more important not to close our eyes to the fate of the refugees who are currently stranded in Niger through this policy of externalising the border regime and asylum system.
In solidarity with the refugees protesting in Niger, Alarme Phone Sahara calls on the UNHCR, the local authorities and the European countries to take seriously and respond to the refugees’ demands for a solution, such as resettlement in a safe third country. Safe escape routes must be guaranteed!