Dozens of African migrants report being sold for forced labor and trapped in slavery in Algeria in conditions some say are even worse than Libya.
Algeria has become an alternative path for migrants to reach the Mediterranean since the severe abuses in Libya’s slave markets came to light. Aid agencies fear that the abuses may now be spreading to Algeria.
A survey of thousands of migrants in Algeria conducted by the International Organization for Migration found that they suffered exploitation that rivaled abuse in Libya.
Thomson Reuters Foundation spoke to two victims who say they were sold into slavery in Algeria:
“The first time they sold me for 100,000 CFA francs ($170),” said Ousmane Bah, a 21-year-old from Guinea who said he was sold twice in Algeria by unknown captors and worked in construction.
“They took our passports. They hit us. We didn’t eat. We didn’t drink,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “I was a slave for six months.”
Accounts of abuse are similar, said Abdoulaye Maizoumbou, a project coordinator for global charity Catholic Relief Services. Of about 30 migrants he met who were deported from Algeria, about 20 said they had been enslaved, he said.
In most cases, migrants said they were sold in and around the southern city of Tamanrasset shortly after entering the country, often by smugglers of their own nationality, he said.
Some said they were tortured in order to blackmail their parents into paying the captors, but even when the money arrived they were forced to work for no pay, or sold, said Maizoumbou.
While dozens of victims have come forward about their treatment in Algeria, some experts are skeptical that slavery in widespread in the country given its judiciary system and police force.
“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.”
However, a former Nigerian smuggler, Bachir Amma, claims that “What happens in Algeria surpasses what happens in Libya.”
Amma now runs a local association to inform migrants of the risks, and says he has talked to over 75 migrants who escaped slavery-like conditions in Algeria.
“NGOs don’t know about this because they’re too interested in Libya,” he added.