An Ivorian migrant recounts his escape from the Algerian police
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On the night of April 13, police in Algeria carried out a raid, arresting hundreds of migrants living in Oran, a town in the western part of the country. According to local associations, more than 200 migrants were stuffed into trucks and then driven to the far south of Algeria, where authorities plan to deport them to Niger. Yacouba B., an 18-year-old Ivorian, was able to escape the arrests by hiding in an abandoned construction site. He told The Observers his story.
On the evening of Friday, April 13, authorities carried out a sweep of the Amandiers, Madina Jadida and Coca neighbourhoods, located on the outskirts of Oran. According to a local organisation, they arrested close to 200 migrants from sub-Saharan Africa. The migrants were then taken by bus to detention centres in Bir El Djir, another suburb of Oran. A few hours later, they were taken by bus to the border with Niger, located in the extreme southwest of the country.
Police drive migrants out of the Coca neighbourhood in Oran. (Photo by one of our Observers.)
Other migrants, however, were able to escape the police’s clutches. One of them, Yacouba B (not his real name), is an 18-year-old man from Ivory Coast. Since December 2017, he has been living in a shanty town in a neighbourhood known as Coca [Editor’s note: The neighbourhood got this nickname because there used to be a Coca Cola factory there]. The shacks there are made from cinder blocks with corrugated iron roofs.
"The neighbourhood was decimated"
Around 4am, I heard police sirens. Then, the sounds of roofs being ripped off and screams. I looked out the window and saw police vans pulling up. A friend and I hid inside the house, behind some boxes. The police asked our landlord to open up all of the houses in the neighbourhood. My landlord knew that I was hiding, but he didn’t tell the police.
Police drive migrants out of the Coca neighbourhood in Oran on April 14, 2018. (Photo taken by one of our Observers.)
I waited in my hiding place until around 2pm, when the police left and my landlord came back. He told those of us who had been hiding that we were no longer allowed to stay in the neighbourhood.
When I came out of my house, I saw that the neighborhood was decimated. They had destroyed the roofs of our homes and there were clothes and cooking utensils strewn about.
Migrants flee Coca, after the police raid on April 14, 2018. (Photos by our Observer.)
Then, residents of the neighbourhood starting coming over. Some of them were brandishing knives, trying to intimidate us. Thankfully, my landlord agreed to help me leave the neighbourhood without alerting the authorities.
Fouad Hassam is in charge of issues relating to migration at SNAPAP, a union for public service workers. He was in Coca 17 during the raid.
"The migrants who escaped are living in fear"
The people who didn’t have valid papers or whose visa was expired, even by a few days, were ousted from their homes and sent to a detention centre. We estimate that about 200 people were arrested.
Neighbours then came and pillaged their homes. But even the migrants who escaped arrest were left in a terrible situation. Some were assaulted, others threatened. It’s even more alarming that none of them will file a complaint with the security services because they are afraid of being sent back. Those who escaped arrest live in fear. Most of them will try to return home with the assistance of the IOM (International Organisation for Migration), which has been organising repatriation.
In 2001, the IOM launched an assisted voluntary return and reintegration programme helping migrants return to their home countries. This programme aims to provide "an orderly and humane return and reintegration of migrants who are unable or unwilling to remain in host or transit countries and wish to return voluntarily to their countries of origin".
After the raid on April 13, Yacouba tried to find refuge in a church in Oran. He hopes to get help from the IOM so he can safely return to the Ivory Coast.
"If the police catch us, we will end up in the middle of the desert, heading towards a country that isn’t even ours"
At the church, they had us fill out voluntary return forms, provided by the IOM, detailing our requests for assistance in returning to our home countries. They gave us clothes and fed us but told us that we couldn’t sleep there because the police routinely searched the premises.
Our Observer and several other migrants found temporary respite in a church in Oran. (Photo by our Observer.)
However, our requests for voluntary return might take time, seeing as there is a lot of demand. So, we’ll have to try to survive until then. If the police catch us, we will end up in the middle of the desert, heading towards a country that isn’t even ours.
Afraid of the police sweep, migrants hide in an abandoned construction site in Oran on April 15, 2018. (Photo by our Observer)
I’m with about a dozen other migrants. We were lucky enough to escape the latest wave of arrests. We spend our days at the church. Then, when it gets dark, we hide out in old construction sites.
Our Observer spends the night with other escapees in an abandoned construction site in Oran. (Photo taken on April 15, 2018)
Up until 2014, Niger and Algeria had an agreement, allowing for migrants from Niger to be deported back to their home country. However, since December 2016, authorities in Algeria have been arresting migrants from all different countries in West and Central Africa and deporting them to the no man’s land between Algeria and Niger.
Authorities in Niger’s capital, Niamey, condemned these mass deportations, especially the fact that Algerian authorities had started to ship people from all different countries to Niger, not just its citizens.
In a statement on March 17, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) condemned the way that Algerian authorities were treating sub-Saharan migrants, calling the government’s actions illegal.
In reaction to these accusations, representatives from the Algerian government stated, during a meeting of the UN Committee for Migrant Workers on April 10 in Geneva, that these operations were "voluntary repatriations and not deportations".
The Algerian prime minister, Ahmed Ouyahia, said that his authorities would continue deporting migrants so as to preserve national security.
Since the beginning of the year, Algerian authorities have deported several hundred migrants across its southern borders. In February, the number rose to 500 people.
After being arrested in cities in the north of Algeria, these migrants are brought to Tamanrasset (a town 1,800 kilometres south of Alger) before being driven to the border.
Since 2014, close to 28,000 people have been repatriated to Niger from Algeria, according to a fact sheet released by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
>> READ ON THE OBSERVERS: In Algeria, sub-Saharan migrants are scapegoats for politicians