I grew up in Douala, a port city in Cameroon which is the economic centre of the country. My wife and I were blessed with three children - they’re now 18, nine and the youngest is just three. Like so many people in Africa, earning enough to give your family what they need is hard, and work can be unstable. So, ten years ago, I decided to do what millions of others have done before and since, and travel to find enough work to earn money to support my family.
I decided to head for Algeria. Lots of people from my country have gone north with the goal of reaching Europe. But with a family in Cameroon I didn’t want to do that. I found what I considered to be the safest route, and travelled nearly 5,000km from Douala to Nigeria, through Niger and eventually into Algeria.
Once there, I headed towards the Mediterranean coast and set myself up in a city called Oran. It was well-known as a multicultural city - outsiders felt tolerated there. I found somewhere to live, got a job, and then worked hard and saved money.
Four years ago, I took a good job in Maghnia in the Tlemcen region, about a two-and-a-half-hour drive away. The work was in construction, and although I was a foreigner, I did well in the job. I was well respected and got a position as co-ordinator of the building site, in charge of hiring workers. I was paid regularly, and the money was good - it was enough for me and the family at home. My employer, however, never signed an employment contract with me, even though I kept asking him to, and this meant that I couldn’t get a residency permit.
There’s a degree of racism everywhere, and this is true in Algeria too, but I didn’t let it worry me too much. When the prime minister announced that all migrants living in Algeria needed to be registered, I dutifully went along to the police stations both in Maghnia, where I was working, and in my weekend home, Oran.
However, attitudes changed when the current prime minister, Ahmed Ouyahia, came to power in 2017. Oil prices had fallen, and the authorities started blaming immigrants for the country’s economic woes. This really encouraged the growth of racist attitudes, and even in Oran black people like me started hiding at home and not going out. I didn’t realise though just how bad things would get.
It was a Friday evening in May 2018. I’d finished work for the week and was waiting as usual in the market place in Maghnya for the bus to take us the 170km back to Oran.
Suddenly and for no particular reason, Algerian police seized me, grabbed my phone - though they didn’t ask to see my passport - and pulled me into a police car which already had people from Guinea, Senegal and Mali in it. They took us to the police station. After a two days in the local station, I was transferred to a bigger one in Tlemcen.
It was hard to know what exactly was going on, but I did by that stage know I was about to be expelled. I hadn’t done anything wrong, but something like this had happened to many of my friends from sub-Saharan Africa, so I understood some of what was going to happen. I asked the police if they could send someone to my home in Oran and fetch my belongings and my savings, but they refused.
I was left in the station in Tlemcen for 24 hours but then, along with dozens of other migrants from different places, we were shoved onto a bus.
There were all sorts of people there: people from Mali who had been rounded up at the airport even though they had valid passports, women, children - one child was just a week old. We were pushed onto a bus - there were about 40 buses in total. Sitting behind me was someone who was claiming asylum. We started driving south, further into the desert.
We were in that bus for hours, days. Hundreds of kilometres followed by hundreds more, through the day and night.
In the end, after more than 1,000km, we arrived in Reggane, a community in central Algeria which is two hours’ drive from anywhere. We got off the buses, and then were left out in the open.
We had no food and no water. This was Tuesday 15 May. It was 40 degrees - there was no shade even for the women and children.
Later that night, we were bundled into open-backed trucks and started moving south again.
When we got to the border with Mali, they left us in a small village called Bordj Badji Mokhtar. They told us to start walking towards the border, threatening us with guns to get us moving.
“We were thinking about reaching Italy ...”
In 2015, I left Cameroon for Algeria with my wife. We settled in Oran to work and save some money before resuming our journey north. We were thinking about reaching Italy and then move to another European country that can offer better working opportunities. We were supposed to cross the Mediterranean Sea through Libya by the end of 2017, but when we heard news about what was happening there at that time, we decided to stay in Algeria.
My wife was a hairdresser and I was working at a construction site. For many years, Oran used to be a multicultural city and we didn’t experience incidents of intolerance until the raids started happening also here.
Continued in chapter 2 ...
“For years, I had been travelling regularly to Algeria from my home in Niger.”
I went first in 2012, then in 2013, 2014 and 2016 and had several different jobs. Algeria is a common destination for Nigerien migrant workers who ultimately come back home after spending some time there to earn money. I worked mainly as a vulcanizer (someone who vulcanizes rubber to improve its strength and resiliency). I always had problems with getting paid; employers often pay late or less than agreed. Sometimes, you feel like Algerians treat us as slaves. They close their noses when they see black people on the bus and refuse to sit next to them.
Despite the hostile environment, I had never been arrested before 2017. This year, the situation got worse against sub-Saharan workers. I was arrested in Algiers and sent back by truck to Niger together with several hundreds of Nigeriens and other third country nationals. I saw so many women and children from my country inside the trucks!
“I didn't expect Algeria to be so hard as well.”
I had to flee Guinea Conakry in 2011 due to the political instability.
In September 2011, my father was killed because he had followed an opposition leader whose supporters were persecuted. I was 18 years old when I witnessed a lot of violence going on over power in Conakry. When my mother also died, I left the country and reached Congo Brazzaville to work there.
I then moved to Mali before going to Algeria where I heard from friends that there were work opportunities. We had heard that Libya was a living hell at that time because of the slavery and racism, but I didn’t expect Algeria to be so hard as well.
I arrived in Gao, Mali, and then payed 250.000 CFA (West and Central African currency – around 430 USD) to the smuggler on the promise that I would reach Oran, but what happened was totally different. We were in a pickup with 125 other people. When we arrived in El Khalil – at the Malian border with Algeria – he left us with an armed group who demanded our money. They had heavy weapons and machetes. They threatened us and forced us to call our families to send the money, saying that otherwise they would not let us continue our journey, and that’s when I lost all my belongings and papers.
After two long weeks, I was able to leave and continue my journey to Oran. I couldn’t enjoy Algeria for long because I was arrested three months later and expelled to Niger. We were 195 people on 14 buses and we had to walk in the desert.
I was very disappointed. I dreamt about heading to Europe and continue my studies, engage in politics and save my country. I am scared to go back to Conakry where I will certainly face problems with the security services. I want to become famous and do something for my Africa.
In 2008, Algeria adopted Law No. 08-11 governing foreign nationals’ conditions of entry, stay and circulation. The law treats irregular migration as a criminal offence punishable by up to two years in prison and establishes legal procedures for migrants’ expulsion from the country.
Not complying with an expulsion order is punished by up to 5 years in prison. Law No. 09-01 of 25 February 2009 amending the penal code introduced the criminal offence of illegal exit for a citizen or foreign national punishable up to six months in prison. Law No. 81-10 of 1981 related to foreign nationals’ employment conditions, establishes that work permits are only granted for positions unable to be filled by an Algerian national. Moreover, foreign nationals are required to obtain a work permit before entering the country in order to be able to apply for a residency permit.
The combination of these laws means that Sub-Saharan nationals who migrate to Algeria in search of work are very often undocumented, cannot regularise their position while in Algeria and are therefore at risk of prosecution, imprisonment and harassment by the authorities.
“... everything was stolen, including our papers.”
On 15 April, in the middle of the night, the police knocked violently at our door and then broke it. They took us without explaining why. My wife was seven months and two weeks pregnant. On the bus, the police informed us that we would be deported. We asked them to give us few minutes to gather our belongings in order to have something to sell during what would certainly be a hard journey.
When we arrived at the detention centre in Bir El Djir, around 300 other people were already there. I noticed that our bags hadn’t arrived. When I tried to ask a policeman, he slapped me and took me to a closed room. He attacked me with a taser and then several other policemen started beating me with batons and Kalashnikovs, while others were spraying me with water. Thanks to the intervention of a local organisation, we were released since my wife was in an advanced stage of pregnancy.
When we arrived back home in Oran, it was almost empty, and everything stolen, including our papers. Another 40 sub-Saharan migrants had been living in the same building, but nobody was there when we came back. The situation has been deteriorating quickly in Oran, and since then, life has become impossible for us. We were forced to hide at home and couldn’t walk freely in the streets.
On 8 November, the authorities arrested me again during a home search. I was trying to show them proof of my enrolment in the IOM’s “voluntary return programme”, but they refused to check the papers. I was separated from my wife and baby and transported to Tamanrasset. Fortunately, I managed to escape the deportation to Niger and to collect some money in order to go back to my family.
Continued in chapter 3 ...
“ ... they broke everything, took those they find and started beating them.”
After three years in Algeria, I was unexpectedly arrested where I used to both work and live. As many other migrant workers from sub-Saharan Africa, I lived in the construction site and slept there. One night, we heard some noise, and someone was loudly knocking on the door. Once the Gendarmes knocked down the door, they went directly to the black people room, they broke everything, took those they find and started beating them and forcing them into buses, while shouting "Repatriation! Repatriation!". We were taken all together without any distinction between documented and undocumented individuals.
Many of us tried to escape from the arrest and got beaten even more. Some of them broke their legs or feet while running. I asked why we were treated that way? I didn’t do anything wrong, I was just working like all the black people in my construction site. Why this injustice?
Since August 2017, the Algerian police and gendarmerie – police forces who report to the Ministry of the Defence - have conducted large-scale raids in the streets, migrants' homes and work places, particularly construction sites, rounding up Sub-Saharan migrants from a range of countries, mainly Niger but also Mali, Ivory Coast, Guinea Conakry, Cameroun, Nigeria, Benin, Burkina Faso, Gambia, Liberia, and Senegal. The authorities detained tens of thousands of people through massive waves of arrests in the Algiers suburbs and in several other cities including Blida, Bejaya, Tamanrasset, Tizi Ouzou, Setif, Tipaza, Mostaganem, Adrar, Bechar, Bordj Badji Mokhtar and Oran, according to local civil society organisations and lawyers. In some cases, the authorities used batons and kicked migrants upon arrest.
Migrants arrested said the security forces used racial profiling when arresting them, using as a basis the colour of their skin or their assumed country of origin, in many cases without seeking to ascertain whether the migrants had the documentation necessary to stay in the country. Amnesty International spoke to dozens of migrants who said there was no individual assessment of their cases and they were not informed of the reasons for their detention. In many cases, the authorities also denied their right to receive consular assistance.
Some of those arrested and deported were undocumented migrants, while others had valid visas or residence cards.
The security forces also detained hundreds of refugees and asylum-seekers registered in Algeria and expelled at least one Malian asylum seeker in October 2017 to Niger and dozens since January 2018 to Niger and Mali. According to local organizations, an increased number of asylum seekers and refugees have been apprehended by the authorities in November 2018.
In the eastern city of Oran, from March until November 2018 the authorities conducted house-to-house searches in the middle of the night in some neighbourhoods where many migrants live and forced them to leave all their belongings behind during the arrest, as confirmed by reports of migrants interviewed in Oran and local civil society organizations. In some cases, the raids also separated families. During a house search in Oran on 8 November 2018, the authorities arrested a Cameroonian national and separated him from his wife and three months son, transporting him until Tamanrasset. He managed to escape before the deportation. In June, the family filed a request for the “voluntary return program” with IOM in Algeria, but the authorities refused to verify the related documents upon the arrest.
“... we are forced to hide at home with our new-born baby.”
We had thought, at a certain point, to flee to Morocco through the Meghnya border, but this border is also very dangerous, and we didn't want to risk our lives and in particular our baby's life. We decided then to stay and ask the IOM to return us to Cameroon. We didn’t have other choices than going back home, even if this meant that our life plans had failed. Our region is unstable, and we were risking exposure to other problems by going back home, but we would prefer to die at home rather than here in Algeria. At least, our families will be able to put a stone on our graves.
Our baby was born here thanks to a local organization which facilitated access to a hospital for us. Five months after we applied for the "voluntary return program" with IOM, we are still waiting here, and we are forced to hide at home with our new-born baby.
Is this a life? Why are the authorities using us as scapegoats to justify their bad economic choices and the hard times Algeria is living after the fall of oil prices? With this discourse, the authorities are really encouraging racism among the society, and even here in Oran, many Algerians started to become hostile towards us, although we had always lived together before.
Seven months after the police apprehended us, the raids continue, and we are trapped in the fear of being targeted. One of our close friends and his family were victims of one of the last raids. He managed to escape but his wife and their six-month baby were arrested and expelled to Niger. How can you leave a six-month baby in the middle of the desert? This is inhumane!
“ ... the police started beating us with batons and sticks.”
I settled in Blida, Algeria, and worked during three years in a construction site. I used to earn 1500 Dinars per day (around 12 USD). I was arrested in that same construction site, together with other workers from Niger, Cameroon, Guinea, Mali, Benin; just Africans. The policemen said it was the Algerian Prime Minister who was aiming to clean the country from black people.
I was taken to the police station in Ouled Yaich and then to Zeralda camp near Algiers, where we spent three days. I left everything behind me, including my clothes, belongings and more than 180.000 Algerian Dinars (around 1500 USD) of savings painfully collected during my time in Algeria. In Zeralda camp, police, Gendarmerie, as well as the Algerian Red Crescent were there. In the camp, they did not allow us to go to the toilet during the night. We were forced to piss in a drum and keep it next to us. After three days in this deplorable place, they brought us to Tamanrasset. When we were getting out from the bus in Tamanrasset, the police started beating us with batons and sticks. We were a convoy of 15 or 16 buses all together and we were all beaten for no reason and many were injured.
I was about to go back to my country with my Samsung G5, the only thing left after my arrest, but it was confiscated in Tamanrasset. Why did they do this to me? I haven't killed anybody, I didn’t do anything wrong in Algeria to deserve this treatment.
Three hours after we arrived in Tamanrasset, we were already on a truck travelling towards the Nigerien border. The security forces left us there and said: "you see this point? This is Niger". We were 500 or 600, the Nigeriens who knew the road better were leading the group. We walked under the sun from around nine in the morning until four the next morning.
After a short period ranging from one to three days in detention, the authorities forced large numbers of migrants and dozens of refugees onto buses and then transferred them more than 2,000 kilometres away to Tamanrasset, in the south of Algeria, without providing adequate food or water. In few cases, the authorities held migrants for a prolonged period of up to a few months. At least ten migrants interviewed by Amnesty International said the authorities beat them during the transfer.
In Tamanrasset, the authorities detained the migrants and refugees in a transit site run by the gendarmerie, where people were not allowed to leave. Some migrants who spoke to Amnesty International were moved from Tamanrasset within hours, while others were held for several days. They told Amnesty International that the authorities forcibly loaded them into large open trucks and transported them south towards the border.
Others who were arrested in several waves of arrests in different Algerian cities, including Tlemcen, Magnia, Oran and Ghardaya, were gathered in an open-air detention centre in Reggane, in the central region of Algeria. According to migrants' reports, after a short period of detention, the security forces forcibly bussed them to Bordj Badji Mokhtar, the last Algerian city before the border with Mali.
In addition to images already credited throughout this digital publication, Amnesty International also credit the following image sources: