NIAMEY Niger will repatriate its citizens living as illegal migrants in neighboring Algeria, the justice minister announced on Sunday, as the government steps up efforts to combat trafficking networks.
In recent months, Niger says it has destroyed safe houses owned by traffickers in northern towns and turned back travelers without valid identity documents in an effort to stem the flow of African migrants across the Sahara and into North Africa and Europe.
"The government has decided to repatriate all our citizens living illegally in Algeria and who are in camps," Amadou Marou, Niger's justice minister and government spokesman, told state radio.
"There are criminal networks from Kantche to Algeria who are organizing the trafficking of people who are then forced to do shameful things. These Nigeriens in Algeria have lost all dignity and are dishonoring our country," Marou added.
Authorities in Algeria were not immediately available for comment. A spokesperson for the Algerian Red Crescent, which provides medical aid to illegal migrants from Niger, also declined to comment.
However, a source from the Algerian Red Crescent, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak to the press, said Algeria would provide help to Niger to repatriate its citizens.
"This is a humanitarian problem. We must handle it with extreme care," said the source.
The rising number of migrants from sub-Saharan Africa arriving in Algeria has raised concern, with some local media accusing them of spreading disease, including HIV.
Increasingly, immigrants are reaching the cities of northern Algeria, where camps have sprung up near the Mediterranean coast for migrants hoping to cross to Europe.
The deaths of 92 migrants in the desert en route to Algeria in October stirred outrage in Niger and prompted the government to take action. Most of the migrants were women and children from southeast Niger sent to beg outside Algerian mosques.
Despite the government's promises to stem the flow, a Reuters investigation in May found that it continues, with security forces taking bribes to allow safe passage and smugglers charging migrants more for the route.
Niger sits at a crossroads of the various routes migrants use in their efforts to reach North Africa and Europe in the hope of a better life.
Officials say that Algeria-bound migrants are mainly women and children from the town of Kantche in the region of Zinder, in Niger's far east. Because children are involved, there is a clear case of people trafficking.
(Reporting by Abdoulaye Massalaki in Niamey and Lamine Chikhi in Algiers; writing by David Lewis; Editing by Daniel Flynn/Ruth PItchford)