Chronicle of the Middle East and North Africa

Algeria Rejects UN Comments that Crackdown on Migrants is ‘Deeply Alarming’

A Sub-Saharan woman walks past a makeshift building where she lives with other fellow migrants in impoverished conditions in the capital Algiers
A Sub-Saharan woman walks past a makeshift building where she lives with other fellow migrants in impoverished conditions in the capital Algiers. Photo AFP

In May 2018 United Nations human rights body OHCHR has called on the Algerian government to stop expelling thousands of migrants, particularly from sub-Saharan African countries, to Niger and Mali.

“The collective expulsion of migrants, without individual assessment or any due process guarantees, is deeply alarming and not in line with Algeria’s obligations under international human rights law, including the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, which Algeria has ratified”

Ms. Ravina Shamdasani, the OHCHR spokesperson, said during a press briefing in Geneva on 22 May 2018.

We urge Algeria to implement the recommendations made by the Committee on Migrant Workers in April, including to explicitly prohibit collective expulsions and establish monitoring mechanisms to ensure that expulsions of migrant workers are carried out in strict compliance with international standards,” she said, adding that the committee had also called on Algerian authorities “to ensure respect for the right to seek asylum and the principle of non-refoulement

Shamdasani made her remarks following a visit by OHCHR staff to several cities in northern Niger where they interviewed 25 people who were expelled by Algeria and “who described how Algerian authorities had been carrying out mass round-ups”.

In a series of statements a few days later, the Algerian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) slammed the calls by OHCHR – and dozens of local and international civil rights organizations – for the Algerian government to cease its ongoing crackdown on migrants as “unacceptable” and “malicious”.

The permanent representative of Algeria in Geneva was instructed to express to the OHCHR the strong disapproval of the Algerian authorities about the unacceptable remarks made by its spokesperson and to demand clarification on the reasons having led to such allegations based on an unbearable superficiality“, the ministry said in a statement on 25 May 2018.

Once again, Algeria would like to affirm […] that it must […] take all measures it deems necessary to ensure the safety and well-being of its citizens as well as foreigners staying legally in its territory,’ the MFA added, continuing, ‘The measures of readmissions at the borders are made in accordance with the Algerian law, the international obligations of Algeria and in strict respect of the dignity and the human rights of the persons concerned“.

Algerian Government Irregular Migrants Concerns

For years, the Algerian government has been concerned about the growing number of irregular migrants residing in the country after the European Union intensified border controls in the Mediterranean and blocked several major migration routes in the region, most notably in Turkey and Libya. “We are now at tens of thousands [of illegal migrants], but in the near future we can talk about hundreds of thousands after Europe closed its doors,” Hacem Kacimi, the MFA official in charge of illegal migrants, told reporters.

However, since 2015, Algerian security forces have conducted regular arrests of sub-Saharan nationals in the coastal areas of the country, detaining those arrested for several days before transferring them in bus convoys to the city of Tamanrasset located 2,000 kilometres south of Algeria’s capital Algiers. Most people affected by these campaigns are later forcibly expelled to neighbouring Niger or Mali after spending several days in temporary detention in Tamanrasset and are often abandoned in the desert on the Algerian side of the border without water, food or their personal belongings.

Numerous reports about these mass expulsions by international organizations like Human Rights Watch and local civil rights groups indicate that Algeria is systematically violating its international obligations as the authorities force migrants to leave the country on foot and without individual assessment of their visa and residency status.

Following Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia’s appointmentd in August 2017, Algerian authorities further escalated their crackdown on sub-Saharan nationals and have intensified their arrest and expulsion campaigns of migrant workers and refugees ever since. In March 2018, Minister of the Interior Noureddine Bedoui said that his government has repatriated 27,000 migrants since 2015 and intends to continue expelling those who reside in the country illegally.

Niger has repeatedly criticized Algeria for not only expelling Nigerian citizens but also nationals from several West African countries to northern Niger. In December 2014, the governments in Niamey and Algiers signed a repatriation agreement that has since served as the legal framework for Algeria’s expulsion of Nigerian nationals. However, Algerian authorities continue to expel all African nationals arrested during raids in the urban north of the country to Niger.

In March 2018, dozens of sub-Saharan nationals who had been expelled from Algeria staged a protest in front of the Algerian embassy in the Malian capital Bamako, denouncing alleged mistreatment by Algerian authorities.

Human Rights Groups Pressure on the Algerian Government

In Algeria itself, human rights groups continue to put pressure on the Algerian government to cease its repressive policies toward migrants.

Only days before the UN press briefing, Fouad Hassam, a trade union activist, launched the online petition We are all migrants. It appeals to the Algerian government ‘to put in place […] a national legal framework respecting the rights of migrant workers as well as an asylum law which allows them to have refugee status and guarantees their protection against all forms of abuse or exploitation’. The petition, signed by dozens of Algerian NGOs but also Tunisian, Moroccan and French organizations, also calls on the government ‘to stop the collective expulsion of migrant workers and asylum seekers’.

Without explicitly mentioning the petition, the Algerian MFA rejected the allegations concerning Algeria’s treatment of migrants, framing them as a ‘malicious campaign’. ‘As a land of welcome and hospitality for all those who are or feel persecuted in their respective countries, Algeria is and will remain faithful to the centuries-old traditions of hospitality and generosity so dear to the Algerian people who, themselves, have known, the time of colonization, dispossession, deculturation and exile,’ the MFA statement read.

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