African migrants report torture, slavery in Algeria

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Dozens of Africans say they were sold for labour and trapped in slavery in Algeria in what aid agencies fear may be a widening trend of abusing migrants headed for a new life in Europe.

Algerian authorities could not be reached for comment and several experts cast doubt on claims that such abuses are widespread in the north African country.

The tightly governed state has become a popular gateway to the Mediterranean since it became tougher to pass through Libya,where slavery, rape and torture are rife.

Amid a surge in anti-migrant sentiment, Algeria since late last year has sent thousands of migrants back over its southern border into Niger, according to the United Nations Migration Agency (IOM), where many tell stories of exploitation.

The scale of abuse is not known, but an IOM survey of thousands of migrants suggested it could rival Libya. The Thomson Reuters Foundation heard detailed accounts of forced labour and slavery from an international charity and a local association in Agadez, Niger’s main migrant transit hub,and interviewed two of the victims by telephone.

However, several analysts considered it unlikely that slavery was widespread in Algeria, since the country has a functioning judiciary and strong police force – unlike Libya.

An Algerian senior official said last week the country is facing a “surge of migration” and needs more help. In a statement this month, the government rejected reports from a U.N. human rights team that its mass deportations of migrants were inhuman, saying that it is doing what is necessary to ensure the safety of its citizens.

“I would be very surprised that (slavery) would be allowed to happen in Algeria,” said Issandr El Amrani, North Africa project director for the International Crisis Group.

“The situation is just not comparable to Libya,” he added. But in the ghettos of Agadez, Niger’s main transit hub, some people told a different story.

“What happens in Algeria surpasses what happens in Libya,”said Bachir Amma, a Nigerien ex-smuggler who runs a football club and a local association to inform migrants of the risks.

Migrants in Libya are often starved and beaten by armed groups, and there have been reports of “open slave markets”where migrants are put on sale, according to the U.N. human rights office.