Alarme Phone Sahara
Published October 9th, 2020
Alarme Phone Sahara is a cooperation project launched by initiatives and individuals from the Sahel-Sahara zone and Europe. The project aims to protect the lives and freedom of movement of migrants and refugees against repressive and often deadly migration policies. The Alarme Phone Sahara network has activists living in Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso, Togo, Morocco, Germany, and Austria. Its office is located in Agadez (Niger), a migration hub between the Sahel and the Sahara desert. In the region there is also a network of observers working from small desert villages, who document the situation of migrants and try to support them.
Alarme Phone Sahara respects the decision of people to migrate or stay, and aims to provide them with reliable information.
To help people in distress in the desert, Alarme Phone Sahara operates a hotline and has built a whistleblower structure in the Agadez area. In emergencies, Alarme Phone Sahara alerts people within reach or, if necessary, official rescue services, depending on the resources available.
The objectives of Alarme Phone Sahara
The project aims to
- raise awareness among migrants and migration candidates of the risks of desert travel and how to increase their safety, and to educate them about their right;
- document evidence, in written form or via photographs, of incidents that occur along the migration routes in the Sahel-Sahara region, including crimes, human rights violations and harassment suffered by migrants at the hands of security forces;
- rescue migrants in distress in the desert;
- To condemn regional, national, and international policies that endanger the lives of migrants and attempt to violate the right to free movement;
- provide easily accessible social activities for migrants in Agadez.
Europe’s borders in Agadez
In recent years Niger has become a border guard of Europe. Alarme Phone Sahara is particularly committed to promoting the rights of deportees (from Algeria) and the right to freedom of movement in general.
Pushbacks from Algeria
Every week, hundreds of migrants of different nationalities are deported from Algeria to the border of Niger – also known as "Point Zero". The deportees are usually transported in convoys of trucks by Algerian border police to the border area near the 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 additional support. According to the information that is available, the Nigerien 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 be on regular patrol to rescue people who are struggling to make the desert crossing, including weak, sick or even pregnant individuals.
The statistics collected by our observer in Assamakka reveal the full extent of these deportations. From 23 September to 20 October 2019 alone, 3,231 people were deported from Algeria and forced to cross the border to Assamakka. Of these individuals, at least 754 were from Niger, 1,829 came from other African countries, and for 648 persons there is no information available on their origin. At least 63 women, 82 underage girls and 77 underage boys were among those deported.
Deportations from Algeria in an international context
Algeria has carried out mass deportations before, negotiating an agreement with Niger’s government in 2014 to remove 3,000 people, for example. Algeria, like other Maghreb countries, is an important hub for seasonal labour migrants 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 puts its own interests first, pursuing a harsh and ruthless policy against refugees and migrants and responding to racist tendencies in its society. At the same time, Algeria is keen to position itself as a reliable partner in securing the European Union’s border regime. It has no formal migration control agreement with the EU, but still receives extensive military and security support (for instance in the form of surveillance technologies or vehicles, including from the German car manufacturer Mercedes-Benz).
Stop the tragedy! No to deportations from Algeria to Niger!
It is obvious: The deportations from Algeria to Niger add to the injustice of human rights violations suffered by migrants and refugees. They are a bitter tragedy that results in deaths, injuries, and trauma – a tragedy which benefits Europe as it reduces the number of potential candidates for migration across the Mediterranean.
Alarme Phone Sahara condemns the hunting down of migrants in Algeria and other countries in the Maghreb region, which has become part of the outsourcing and externalization strategies of the European border regime and the migration agreements signed 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.
Locked in 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, demanding resettlement. They are all refugees who have either fled the hardship and violence of Libya or have been evacuated from Libyan prisons by UNHCR. This is an ongoing cycle of protest and repression, with the recently burnt-down camp in Agadez (January 2020) being only the tip of the iceberg. The struggle being fought by the refugees in Niger is a very concrete response to EU policy and its logic of shifting responsibility for the fate of people on the move. On its periphery and far beyond, the European asylum and migration regime creates repressive camp systems with inadequate protection and care. Everywhere, the response of those affected is struggle and protest.
Refugee protest in Niamey
On 5 March 2019, Somali, Ethiopian and Eritrean refugees evacuated from Libya by UNHCR staged a protest in Niamey, the capital of the Republic of Niger. They felt abandoned and were frustrated that UNHCR had failed to organise the speedy resettlement in Niger which it had promised. They also opposed the way their cases were being handled by UNHCR and the state of Niger. The Niger polices used tear gas to suppress the protest.
Protest by refugees from the camp near Niamey
On 20 June 2019, countless evacuated refugees seized the celebrations organised by authorities and UNHCR on the occasion of World Refugee Day as an opportunity to draw attention to the living conditions they were forced to suffer in this camp, marked by the lack of water, food, and medicines. The refugees especially denounced the high number of malaria cases in the camp.
Underage refugees head out on desert protest march
Sudanese minors living 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 marched through the main streets of Agadez. They criticized that their asylum claims had not been handled and that UNHCR had failed to find solutions. The same day, the protesters were forcibly returned to the refugee camp by the police. However, some of the minors were so exhausted that they were taken to hospital in Agadez for treatment.
Niamey: Sit-in of Sudanese refugees in front of the UNHCR headquarters
On 13 November 2019, Sudanese refugees launched a sit-in in front of the UNHCR headquarters in Niamey. Previously, they had been recognised as refugees in other countries such as Chad and Egypt, but in Niger their claims had not been decided for two years. These refugees called for a solution, either to be repatriated in a safe third country or to be returned to the Libyan border. Despite their previous protest more than six months earlier, there had been no solution offered and no progress in their situation.
Refugee sit-in in front of the UNHCR office in Agadez
Almost 1,000 people – most of them Sudanese refugees – began a sit-in in front of the UNHCR office in Agadez on 16 December 2019. One of the main reasons for the protests was that the situation in the UNHCR camp had become unbearable; asylum claims were not being processed, and there was no improvement in sight. In Niger, the local authorities were failing to process their asylum claims. Living conditions in UNHCR camps are very precarious in Niger, one of the poorest countries in the world. Again and again, UNHCR has pledged to improve conditions in the camps in response to protests. So far, however, these promises have been nothing more than empty words.
Agadez: UNHCR camp set on fire after weeks of unanswered protests by refugees
On 4 January 2020, the police violently suppressed protests by Sudanese refugees in Agadez, forcing participants back into the UNHCR camp. It was only after this act of repression in response to this and prior peaceful demonstrations that the refugees set fire to the camp, driven by need and desperation. The majority of those affected are long-term refugees who have not been granted effective protection since the beginning of the Darfur conflict 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 remains unclear whether the detainees have been released. Contacting the refugees has not been possible, as the police confiscated their telephones.
Understanding the growing protests
All of these protests are a response by the affected people to a situation in which more and more refugees, who have fled war and persecution in countries such as Sudan, Eritrea and Somalia and have 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 further migration of refugees to the Maghreb countries and Europe. Instead, through UNHCR, they are building and funding 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 financial support from EU member states to implement migration control and refugee protection measures.
It is therefore all the more important not to close our eyes to the fate of the refugees who are currently stranded in Niger as a result of this policy of externalising the border regime and asylum system.
In solidarity with the refugees protesting in Niger, Alarme Phone Sahara calls on 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!