In Algeria, sub-Saharan migrants are scapegoats for politicians

Screengrabs of two videos documenting violent deportations of migrants in Algeria.
Screengrabs of two videos documenting violent deportations of migrants in Algeria.


Since September, Algerian authorities have been arresting large numbers of migrants from sub-Saharan Africa. Numerous videos have emerged on social media showing how, after being arrested, the migrants are then transferred to detention camps in Algiers or brought to the southern town of Tamanrasset, where some are then deported to Niger. For our Observers, these new measures are a natural progression from the openly xenophobic declarations made by the Algerian government.

"They are hunting down everyone, even those who have a passport, even those who have a visa,” says one of the people who was arrested by the Algerian police in a video that has been circulating online since October 5.

The man, who himself is from sub-Saharan Africa, claims that Algerian security forces are arresting “everyone with black skin” in the Algerian capital and moving them to Camp Zéralda [Editor’s note: Some people did escape this wave of arrests], a resort located to the west of the capital, Algiers. Camp Zéralda is only open to tourists during the summer months and this isn’t the first time it has been converted into a detention centre. After Algerian authorities carried out a series of raids in December 2016, migrants en route for deportation were brought there. It’s estimated that around a thousand undocumented migrants were deported in what activists denounced as “illegal collective deportations.”

>> READ ON THE OBSERVERS: Mass arrests of migrants in Algeria: “They’re hunting black people”

In a second video, which was also shared on Facebook last week, a man films dozens of migrants crammed in a bus that he claims is "leaving Zéralda".

"Some are still wearing their work clothes", says the man filming.

Our Observer Armando B. (not his real name), who is a West African migrant living in Algeria, gathered the testimonies of foreigners who had been arrested. He said that this bus was taking the migrants to Tamanrasset, a desert city located about 2,000 kilometres south of the capital. Radio France Internationale (RFI) reported the same information.

In a statement, Fouad Hassam   an employee at Algerian labour union SNAPAP which is charge of issues relating to migrant workers   said that the migrants who had been arrested and moved to the camp were from “many different nationalities” and that some were even “refugees protected by the [UN]HCR,” the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Another video from early October shows men walking through the sand carrying their belongings on their heads. It seems like it was filmed in the same area, near the border with Niger. According to Armando B., it shows deported migrants who have been dropped off “in the desert” by Algerian authorities.

"Migrants are easy scapegoats for the problems in the country"

In the wake of this repressive campaign, unions from multiple countries in sub-Saharan Africa composed an open letter to Algerian president Abdelaziz Bouteflika about the “mass deportations” of sub-Saharan migrants. But for Abdou Semmar, the editor-in-chief of Algérie Part, the government is assuming full responsibility for these arrests.

There are arrests and deportations all year. In early August, the government announced that undocumented migrants from Niger would be deported [Editor’s note: Since 2014, Algeria has deported more than 180,000 migrants back to Niger under an agreement between the Algerian and Nigerien governments]. Since mid-September, there’s been an uptick in mass deportations. I think that it a publicity stunt by the government. The prime minister has even mentioned just printing more currency.

Sub-Saharan migrants are being used as scapegoats: they are easy targets to explain the problems in the country. Moreover, I just see this as a natural progression from the anti-migrant discourse that we heard all summer. In July, Ahmed Ouyahia, who is now Prime Minister, said that sub-Saharan migrants were synonymous with drugs and criminality.

The Foreign Affairs Minister [Abdelkader Messahel] also accused them of being “a menace to natural security”.

And recently the minister of transportation, ‎Abdelghani Zalene, also stirred up a debate by forbidding bus companies and taxis to transport undocumented people. There were so many problematic interpretations of this ban that he ultimately rescinded it.

"The government makes no effort to hide its open xenophobia”

Early this summer, we saw the emergence of various xenophobic, anti-immigrant campaigns on social media [Editor’s note: Especially #لا_للافارقه_في_الجزاير , which translates to #No to Africans in Algeria]. In my opinion, politicians are using migrants to distract people from serious financial issues in the country.

The government makes no effort to hide its open xenophobia. Algeria is turning its back on these migrants, but at the same time, there have never been real policies to welcome and integrate migrants. [Editor’s note: For example, Algeria has never had national legislation recognizing refugees or asylum seekers].

As winter approaches, the number of deportations is increasing. One reason for this is that the country doesn’t have adequate shelters for homeless migrants and doesn’t want to deal with the issue.

This wave of arrests has led to tragedy in some cases. On Saturday, October 7, two men from West Africa who were working on a construction site in Algeria jumped from the 6th floor of a building under construction in a desperate attempt to escape a group of gendarmes. Both fractured their legs.