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Algeria Strands Thousands Of Migrants In The Sahara


The EU has been putting pressure on countries to stop migrants from entering Europe through North Africa, but that's precipitating another humanitarian crisis. The Associated Press is reporting that Algeria has abandoned more than 13,000 migrants and refugees in the Sahara Desert over the last 14 months. The migrants are mostly people who are crossing Algeria trying to get to Europe. According to the AP, men, women and children are being taken to Algeria's southern border and forced to walk into the desert at gunpoint without food or water. The groups often walk for days before reaching help, and many have died.

We wanted to learn more about the situation there, so we contacted Lori Hinnant. She's been reporting on this for the Associated Press. We reached her in Burgundy in France.

Lori Hinnant, thanks so much for speaking to us.

LORI HINNANT: Hi. Thank you.

MARTIN: So, first of all, you did reporting from Niger on the Algerian border. Could you just give us a sense of the terrain there?

HINNANT: Well, it is, first off, just unimaginably hot. It's the middle of the Sahara, and it is the middle of the summer. And what you have there is temperatures reaching 120 degrees. There's no shade, and it is sand as far as you can see. There's not really any roads either. Technically, there's something called the Trans-Sahara Highway, but it doesn't really exist except on a map.

MARTIN: Now, in your reporting, you talked to people who described being forcibly expelled from Algeria. So tell us about some of the experiences they described to you.

HINNANT: Well, first of all, the migrants that we spoke to were almost all of them livid at how they had been treated. Most of them had been rounded up within Algeria with no notice at all, taken down south to a town called Tamanrasset, where they were then eventually regrouped into open trucks, driven for hours nearly to the border and then dropped and told to walk. But they weren't entirely sure where they were going, and they were just pointed toward Niger - or, more recently, toward Mali - and told, there's the border. Now go. And that's what they did.

So you have some who were left 15 kilometers - so about 9 miles - away from the nearest water, some who were left farther than that even. And many people got disoriented, dehydrated and saw people in their group fall and not get up again.

MARTIN: And you're telling us that children have actually been forced out into the desert like this?

HINNANT: When we were in the camps, we saw children. We talked to one woman who had been pregnant who said she miscarried during the walk. We saw babies who had been born within weeks before. It is overwhelmingly young men, but there's certainly young women. There's young mothers. There's young children.

MARTIN: Do we have a sense of where most of the migrants were coming from to begin with? And, you know, why are they trying to undertake this crossing through Algeria?

HINNANT: A lot of them come from West Africa, but they really come from across sub-Saharan Africa. We talked to people from Liberia, from Burkina Faso, from Senegal, from the Gambia. It really was a huge range of people from across West Africa.

MARTIN: What is Algeria saying about this?

HINNANT: Algeria didn't respond to our requests for comment. But when the U.N. accused them of mistreating migrants in this way, they described it as a way to turn their neighboring countries against them and said that it was a conspiracy from nongovernmental organizations.

MARTIN: That's Lori Hinnant. She's a reporter with the Associated Press. She's been covering the forced expulsion of migrants from Algeria.

Lori Hinnant, thanks so much for speaking to us.

HINNANT: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF REKI'S "SANCTUM") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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