UN urges Algeria to stop expelling migrants: report

A migrant picks up his blanket outside of the police station in Thessaloniki's Aristotelous main square on October 8, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 09 October 2018
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UN urges Algeria to stop expelling migrants: report

  • Algeria has sent around 35,600 Nigeriens back to Niger since 2014, according to International Organization for Migration
  • The North African state has denied abandoning migrants in desolate border areas

NIAMEY: Algeria must immediately stop collective expulsions of African migrants across its border with Niger, a UN report said, after rights groups accused Algiers of rounding up and expelling thousands of people to the desert.
Algeria has sent around 35,600 Nigeriens back to Niger since 2014, according to International Organization for Migration (IOM) figures cited in the report, including more than 12,000 since the start of the year.
“These collective expulsions from Algeria to Niger are in utter violation of international law,” Felipe Gonzalez Morales, UN special rapporteur on human rights for migrants, said in the report, a copy of which was provided to AFP on Tuesday.
“I call on the government of Algeria to abide by its international obligation and halt with immediate effect all collective expulsions of migrants to Niger.”
The North African state has denied abandoning migrants in desolate border areas but said it faces an influx of sub-Saharan Africans crossing over from Mali and Niger.
Niger is a major trafficking route for migrants trying to reach Europe, with the EU estimating 90 percent of West African migrants pass through the country before moving on to Algeria, Libya or elsewhere.
Sub-Saharan migrants have regularly been rescued from the Niger desert — or their bodies discovered — after attempting to cross in soaring temperatures with little food or water.
The UN report said migrants are rounded up from their homes in Algeria often at night without having time to get dressed, or collect their belongings or money.
Some of them have lived and worked in the country for years with children going to local schools, it said.
Others are beaten and held at police stations before being transported by bus to the border, where they are forced to walk through the desert to the nearest town, the report added.
Algeria says it faces “unfounded criticism” and its efforts have stopped thousands of migrants crossing its territory in their attempts to reach Europe.
Morales in the report also calls on Niger to reform its anti-trafficking law, saying it penalized migrants as well as smugglers.


Daesh is down but not out, say fleeing families

Updated 23 February 2019
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Daesh is down but not out, say fleeing families

  • Hundreds more remain holed up in Baghouz, the last redoubt of the militants’ proto-state
  • Some evacuees say they would have stayed if it were not for the call from their leaders to leave

OUTSIDE BAGHOUZ, Syria: They were living in holes in the ground, with only dry flatbread to eat at the end. Those injured in an intense military campaign had no access to medical care, and those who were sick had no medicine.

Yet, if it were not for the call from their leaders to leave, they would have stayed. Such is the devotion of several hundred men, women and children who were evacuated on Friday from the last speck of land controlled by Daesh, a riverside pocket that sits on the edge of Syria and Iraq. Hundreds, if not thousands, more remain holed up in Baghouz — the last redoubt of the militants’ proto-state that leaders once said would stretch to Rome.

They include militants, of course, but also their family members and other civilians who are among the group’s most determined supporters. Many of them traveled to Syria from all over the world. And they stuck around as the militants’ control crumbled.

At least 36 flatbed trucks used for transporting sheep carried the disheveled, haggard crowd out of the territory to a desert area miles away for screening. 

They were the latest batch of evacuees from the territory following airstrikes and clashes meant to bring about the militants’ complete territorial defeat.

For now, the civilians are expected to be sent to a displaced people’s camp, while suspected fighters will go to detention facilities. Previous evacuations have already overwhelmed camps in northern Syria, and at least 60 people who left the shrinking territory have died of malnutrition or exhaustion.

In a dusty area surrounded by grass, women engulfed in black robes from head to toe and children in dirty jackets — many of them crying for food — formed one line. Men wearing tattered headscarves formed another. Foreign men were in yet a third.

One woman had given birth in one of the trucks. An old man was carried in a blanket by two others to the screening line.  A young girl sat under the shade of the wheel of a truck looking dazed, while another moved between the crowd, asking for food.

The evacuees included French, Polish, Chinese, Bengali, Egyptians, Tajiks, Moroccans, Iraqis and Syrians.

It is impossible to know if all are wholeheartedly behind the militant group or how many expressed support out of fear of reprisals. But many vehemently defended Daesh, arguing the group was down — but not out — and said they only left because of an order from the remaining leader in the area.

Some referred to the wali, the provincial leader, while others said the order was from the group’s top leader, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi.

It is not clear if Daesh leaders were in agreement. Amid the military pressure, reports have emerged of disagreements among them. The war monitor group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said one Daesh leader was beheaded in recent days for urging civilians to leave.

All those interviewed gave nicknames or spoke on condition of anonymity because they feared for their safety.

“Baghouz maybe is the most difficult moments of all my life,” said 21-year-old Um Youssef, a Tunisian-French woman who came to Syria at 17 with her mother. 

Um Youssef — which means mother of Youssef in Arabic — sent her two kids and her mother out of the pocket last month and stayed with her husband.

She said she had no regrets and was at “peace,” describing the last few weeks as “the best” since she moved to Syria because they taught her life lessons.

It was hard to see how that could be from the hills overlooking Baghouz. A four-year international campaign has reduced the Daesh reign — which once sprawled over nearly a third of Syria and Iraq — to a tent encampment and a few homes in this village overlooking the Euphrates river.

An estimated 300 Daesh militants are besieged there, hemmed in by the river and the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a Kurdish-led militia spearheading the fight against Daesh following an intense push since September. Thousands of civilians have also poured into the area.

The presence of so many civilians— and possibly senior members of the militant group — in Baghouz has surprised the SDF and slowed down the expected announcement of the extremist group’s territorial defeat.

Recapturing Baghouz would mark an end to the militants’ territorial rule, but few believe that will end the threat posed by an organization that still stages and inspires attacks through sleeper cells in both Syria and Iraq and that has active affiliates in Egypt, West Africa and elsewhere. The group also has a presence online, using social media to recruit new members and promote its attacks.

In the past few weeks, nearly 20,000 people have left Baghouz on foot through the humanitarian corridor, but the militants then closed the passage and no civilians left for a week until Wednesday, when a large group was evacuated.

Among those evacuated Friday was a group of 11 Yazidi children. Thousands from the Yazidi minority were kidnapped by Daesh in Iraq in 2014, and are still missing.

In the dusty clearing where the evacuees were being screened on Friday, a 16-year-old mother of two from Aleppo said she has not had food for a couple of days, opting to feed her children instead.

A child said he has not showered in a month, and a woman from Tajikistan asked for a phone to call her mother. Frantic and in tears, a mother held out her pale and still toddler, screaming for help. Tears of hungry children rang through the open desert as SDF officials searched the evacuees’ belongings.

But of over a dozen people interviewed by The Associated Press, only four said they did not want to be in Baghouz.

They described living in holes dug in the ground with tents hoisted to protect against airstrikes. Some said they initially got lentil soup, but then only barely-husk bread was available— a green-brownish loaf of flatbread.

“We weren’t going to leave, but the Caliph said women should leave,” said Um Abdul-Aziz, a 33-year-old Syrian mother of five whose moniker means mother of Abdul-Aziz in Arabic. She was referring to Daesh leader, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi.

Her husband stayed behind to fight.

A few were critical. “Order or no order, I wanted to get out,” said Aya Ibrahim, an Iraqi mother who said she was unable to secure medicine for her children. “Many families died from airstrikes. Many kids died from hunger.”

The 16-year-old Syrian mother of two from Aleppo said she lost four husbands, her father, sister and two brothers. Um Mohammed said the last days have been hard, with food prices soaring and intensive bombings keeping them in hiding.

About 2 pounds of sugar went for nearly 30,000 Liras ($70), more than 30 times the price in other parts of Syria, while a liter of cooking oil cost 10,000 Liras. “I have not eaten in four days,” she said.

Then the order came for them to leave. But, for some, it is not the end.

Um Youssef, the French-Tunisian, said she has no plans or desire to return home in Tunisia, saying she would find her way to another Syrian city.

Daesh is over? Says who? asked a 14-year-old Syrian girl who refused to give her name. “Wherever you go there is” Daesh.