More than a hundred Sudanese nationals arrested in Niger are at risk of serious abuses including unlawful detention in harsh conditions, torture and other forms of ill-treatment, often for the purpose of extortion, after they were deported back to Libya last week, said Amnesty International.
The group of around 145 people – including women and children – had fled Libya because of the brutal conditions they endured there, and had been living in a displacement camp in the Nigerien city of Agadez where they hoped to claim asylum.
On 2 May authorities in Niger rounded them up, packed them onto trucks and drove back towards the Libya border. Authorities confirmed the deportation, saying it had been carried out because the groups were not ‘’refugees but possible members of armed groups’’ in Libya, and therefore threatened the security of the country.
“By forcibly sending back these people to Libya, authorities in Niger are violating the very principle of asylum and refugee protection,” said Gaetan Mootoo, Amnesty International West Africa researcher.
“Libya is simply not a safe country. Our research has shown how migrants and refugees are subject to torture, detention and extortion there. The authorities must allow these people back to Niger in line with its obligations under the Refugee Convention and work with the UN refugee agency to find a safe alternative for them.”
Amnesty International spoke to a Sudanese national in Agadez who managed to escape the deportation after being arrested with the group. He stayed in contact with some of them by phone and confirmed that they had been taken to Libya. He said:
“When we left the mosque at sundown on 2 May, we found the police waiting for us. They took us all to the police station in Agadez where we spent the night. We were 145 men, and four families with one child around 10 years old. We spent four nights in prison…They took them to Libya. I was supposed to be with them but I managed to escape. Yesterday at 3 am one of those deported called me. They are now in a border location between Libya and Niger. The area is completely deserted and they have been left in the middle of nowhere for five days now.”
The authorities in Niger confirmed that nationals from Sudan had been sent back to the border with Libya and added that “these people did not respect the law and rules of the country” and that “they were threatening the security of the country.”
Over the past five years, thousands of refugees and migrants transited through Niger on their way to Libya and Algeria. At the end of 2017, an estimated 2,000 Sudanese nationals arrived in Agadez. Some of them came from displacement camps in Sudan and refugee camps in Chad, and others were returning from Libya.
Another Sudanese national who escaped the deportation back to Libya told Amnesty International that he went to Libya looking for work. However when he arrived he was arrested along with around 50 other people, and held in horrendous conditions for six months: He said:
“I was beaten every day and sometimes with a stick. I had to work and dig in the ground. They wanted money and told me to call my family. I had no one to call. I saw others around me being beaten and some died following their injuries and diseases. After six months they let me go… From there, I went [looking] for security and everywhere I went there was none. I found a big car going to Niger transporting goods. I got in and went to Niger, where I have been since 2014”.
“Sending back people to Libya where they can be at serious risk of torture constitutes a dangerous precedent,” said Gaetan Mootoo.
“Authorities in Niger should make sure they honor their international obligations to protect the rights of all refugees or migrants and ensure they are not exploited and abused.”