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Fire kills 18 African migrants at camp in Algeria

Authorities have opened an investigation into the source of the fire, which also wounded 43 migrants
Migrants from Niger prepare food next to their tents on 14 May 2014 after settling, some of them for more than one year, near the fruit market in the Algerian town of Boufarik (AFP)

 A fire broke out Tuesday at a camp for African migrants in Algeria, killing 18 people and injuring another 43, emergency services said.

The blaze began before dawn and was caused by an electrical fault at the camp housing about 600 migrants in Ouargla, 800 kilometres southeast of Algiers.

The cause and the victims’ nationalities were not immediately known.

“The fire broke out at 3am, killing 18 people and wounding 43,” Colonel Farouk Achour said by telephone.

The emergency services rushed to the scene to distinguish the fire, which is suspected to have been caused by the migrants’ efforts to keep warm following a cold snap in recent days.

The authorities have opened an investigation.

The president of the Algerian Red Crescent, Saida Benhabiles, said the fire was sparked by a short circuit.

"A short circuit triggered the explosion of a heater and the fire," Benhabiles told AFP.

She said that 27 people were still being treated in hospital.

Algeria has become one of the top destinations for African migrants seeking a better life in recent years.

Thirty percent of sub-Saharan African immigrants living in Algeria were previously working in Libya, before they fled the chaos and instability plaguing the neighbouring country in since the overthrow and death of former president Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

Middle East Eye previously reported that the Algerian government was facing a parliamentary inquiry on the official procedures for dealing with the mass influx of migrants.

Security reports cited 20,000 migrants and refugees under the care of the Algerian Red Crescent, with the majority living near the southern border with Mali, Niger and Libya. The reports underlined that the overall cost for the state of supporting migrants would be around $100 million dollars.