For several weeks, the repatriation of migrants expelled from Algeria to Niger has been very slow, and the transit camps on the Assamaka – Arlit – Agadez axis are overwhelmed. Between geopolitical upheavals, consular complications, and logistical difficulties, the patience of some migrants is put to the test.
Mehdi Chebil, special envoy to Niger.
Malians left. Guineans followed them. Other migrants from half a dozen other African countries, all expelled from Algeria, have also returned home thanks to the voluntary repatriation mechanism of the International Organization for Migration (IOM). But Kabirou Youssouf, originally from Nigeria, is still there, stuck in the small mining town of Arlit in northern Niger.
“I have been stuck here for three months now, after having already waited a month in Assamaka,” laments the 30-year-old migrant. Staying so long in Niger was never part of his plans: Kabirou Youssouf was working in agriculture in Algeria when he was arrested and summarily expelled like tens of thousands of other sub-Saharan Africans.
His compatriot Husseimi Hamissou, 27, nods. He too has been waiting for four months to be able to return home to Kano, in northern Nigeria.
We meet the two men in the dusty streets of Arlit, a town famous for its uranium mines. Looking for a little bricklaying job, they carry a change of clothes in a plastic bag. If they find work, they will receive between 1,000 and 1,500 CFA francs per day (equivalent to 1.50 and 2.30 euros).
The two Nigerians have registered with IOM for repatriation but as days turn into weeks and then weeks into months, they begin to lose hope. “It hurts to see other nationalities come before us, when we have been here longer!” exclaims Kabirou Youssouf.
In an interview, IOM acknowledged temporary blockages but strongly denied prioritizing certain nationalities over others.
“The majority of migrants here are French-speaking, especially Guineans and Malians, and that can give others the false impression that they are privileged (…) But the rule is very clear, repatriations follow the order of arrivals”, says Joseph Dück, manager of the IOM center in Agadez.
The official cites health, security and consular reasons to explain the recent delays. In general, IOM relies on processes imposed by States of origin to issue laissez-passer. Each new requirement of the latter – videoconference interviews with the migrant, Covid vaccination, daunting forms, etc. – entails a little more delay for migrants from these countries.
In the case of Nigeria, long-planned land convoys of 200 people had to be canceled due to deteriorating security in the north of the country. The formalities to be completed to repatriate Nigerian nationals are also more complicated than for other nationalities, with a lot of data to be collected for a platform managed by an external service provider.
Congestion of the Assamaka – Arlit – Agadez axis
At the time of InfoMigrants’ visit in mid-November, all transit camps in Assamaka, Arlit, and Agadez were overheated. There were thus more than 1,500 people at the Agadez center – more than a third of them Nigerians – for a capacity of 1,000 people.
The most striking example remains Assamaka, the first village on the route of those expelled from Algeria, where several thousand migrants sleep outside while awaiting their evacuation*.
“When we arrived, we registered with the Nigerien police, who welcomed us,” recalls Brahim Dramé, a Malian who arrived in Assamaka on November 1. “Then we went to the IOM and we were told that there was no more room. We didn’t have a blanket for the first few days and I had to slip into a jute bag to cover me at night.” The delegate of the Malian group, Fouméké Diarra, estimates that nearly a thousand of his compatriots expelled from Algeria have been present in Assamaka for a period which varies “between ten days and two months”. Several migrants have expressed frustration at seeing their departure date from Assamaka pushed back multiple times.
Their departure from Assamaka will only be possible if the Arlit and Agadez camps further south are relieved. Joseph Dück, the manager of the OIM center in Agadez, evokes an “extraordinary situation” and thinks that the blockages will be resolved quickly.
Unpredictable influx of deportees
But many factors do not depend on the international organization. Covid has slowed operations, as has the epidemic of coups in the region – Mali in 2020 and 2021, Guinea-Conakry in 2021, Burkina Faso in 2022 – which regularly lead to temporary border closures.
Above all, the fact that Niger does not really control its border with Algeria means that the flows of returned migrants are absolutely not regulated upstream. As InfoMigrants reported in a previous report, Algerian authorities drop off all deported sub-Saharan Africans, regardless of nationality, at a place called Point-Zero in the middle of the desert, which marks the border between the two countries.
“We process about 100 profiling procedures* per day, so it takes about 10 days to do 1,000 people,” an IOM agent who is not authorized to speak publicly on behalf of the IOM told InfoMigrants. organization. “The problem is that, as soon as we move migrants, Algeria sends others. It exceeds our capacities.”
* While the vast majority of those expelled from Algeria contact the IOM for voluntary repatriation, this is not the case for everyone. Those who manage to benefit from money transfers can decide to leave on their own, either to the Maghreb to continue their journey of exile, or to their country of origin.
** Profiling is the procedure aimed at correctly identifying migrants, essential for determining their nationality and therefore the country to which they will be repatriated. This formality is obviously longer for the many cases where migrants do not have identity papers in their possession.