by Sofian Philip Naceur
- 1 Hard Facts & Short Characterisation
- 2 Economy & Government
- 3 Migration Movement
- 4 Projects of the EU and Algeria’s Self-Interest in Border Security and Control
- 5 Which Role play (which) NGOs?
- 6 Economic Interests – Who profits?
- 7 Who are the Losers?
- 8 Which Resistance exists?
- 9 Materials & Sources
- 10 Footnotes
Hard Facts & Short Characterisation
Located on the South Mediterranean shore, Algeria is Africa’s largest country in terms of area, stretching over 2.4 million km². Its coastline measures about 1,000 kilometres and its land borders are more than 6,700 kilometres long.
About 90% of the population (around 42 million in 2019) lives on a small coastal strip in the north of the country. The vast majority of the state territory is barren desert, with just 17% of the land area fit for agricultural use.
Approximately 99% of the population are Sunni Muslims. About three-quarters are Arabs and one quarter Berbers (Amazighs). Nomadic tribes like the Tuareg reside particularly in the deserts in the south of the country. Algeria’s three official languages are Arabic, French and Amazigh. About 45% of the population is under the age of 30. In 2018, population growth was about 1.6%. There is no official information about the foreign population living in Algeria, as a notable percentage of people from other African states are not officially registered with Algerian authorities. The percentage of registered migrant workers is comparatively low. Of these, about 60% are from China, Turkey and Egypt.
Economy & Government
Olives and dates are among Algeria’s most important agricultural export products. However, a significant amount of foodstuffs the country needs to cover local demand, but also consumer goods, have to be imported due to structural weaknesses of the agricultural and the industrial sectors. Nevertheless, Algeria is rich in mineral resources. Beside petroleum and natural gas, Algeria also features gold, iron, phosphate, wolfram and diamonds mines. Approximately 98% of foreign exchange income and more than 60% of the state budget derive from the revenues from the oil and gas export. For this reason, the state-owned oil and petroleum company, Sonatrach, is of overriding importance to Algeria’s government revenues and general economic performance.
Therefore, as a classical rentier state, Algeria is highly dependent on the world market price of oil. In times of high oil prices (as it was the case between 2003 and 2014), the government can distribute the oil rent, increase subsidies and extend state-financed social services (e.g. social housing, infrastructure, education and health services). But if the oil rent decreases (as in the mid-1980s and since 2015), the state is in dire need of adjusting its social spending, cuts social benefits and increases taxes. Consequently, a heavy drop of the oil rent always leads to economic and currency crises as well to an aggravation of social inequalities. As soon as oil revenues decrease, Algeria’s currency, the dinar (DZD), comes under massive pressure. Imports become more expensive and, consequently, the cost of living, which is highly dependent on the exchange rate, rises. Similarly to the 1980s, since 2017 there has been an increase of socio-economic protests and strikes, workers and protesters have been calling for economic reforms and an end to mismanagement and corruption.
Algeria is governed by a state class which has the de facto monopoly on the distribution of the profits from oil and gas exports. Drops of the oil rent have led not only to economic crises and protests among the population, but have also triggered serious clashes within the ruling class about the rent’s distribution among those in power. This highly fragmented state class is made up of an opaque network of military figures, the security apparatus, the state bureaucracy, political parties deriving from the former unity party, Front de Libération National (FLN), as well as private business elites and parts of the co-opted opposition. Individuals and fractions from these entities unify along ideological and regional fault lines and compete against each other for political influence and economic privileges.
Between 2003 and 2014, a time of economic prosperity, Algeria’s government launched numerous construction and housing programmes, invested in the modernisation of public infrastructure, granted loans for young people to set up businesses and increased subsidies for foodstuffs and fuel. Despite the raging corruption in the bureaucracy and the security sector, the state was able to meet the basic needs of the population during that period and to maintain a certain social balance across the country.
Since the massive drop of oil and gas prices in 2014, the state budget almost halved and the socio-economic situation of large parts of the population has massively worsened. The mass uprising that started in February 2019 and is still ongoing, and which demands political and socio-economic reforms, is especially important in the light of the massive social inequalities in the country. The revolt challenges the ruling class, which has governed Algeria since its independence in 1962 but has lost its legitimation among large parts of the population.
Concerning migration movements between Africa and Europe, Algeria is of utmost importance. Algeria is an immigration country for migrant workers from Western and Central Africa and the Sahel (particularly from Niger), but also an important transit country for people on the move from African countries on their way to Europe. Also, refugees and people on the move from Arab and Asian countries migrate through or to Algeria, primarily from Syria and Yemen. At the same time, Algeria is also a country with high emigration rates. About two million Algerians live abroad, the overwhelming majority in France. Remittance transfers from Algerians living abroad are crucial to their families due to high unemployment rates and price fluctuations for foodstuffs and consumer goods, but economically they are not as important as in other countries of the region.
According to UNHCR data, about 98,906 recognised refugees (February 2019) live in Algeria. 90,000 of those are Sahrawis from Western Sahara. Since the 1960s and 1970s they have been living in five refugee camps near the southwestern Algerian city of Tindouf, located near the border to Western Sahara, and which are almost completely dependent on external support for health services, food, education, etc.
8,906 people, primarily from Syria, Mali, Palestine and Yemen, were recognised as refugees by UNHCR in early 2019.
There are vague references to international refugee law in Algerian legislation, but the right to asylum is not explicitly guaranteed by any Algerian law. De facto, UNHCR is the single contact point in Algeria for refugees and asylum seekers to apply for subsidiary protection status, support services or resettlement.
In the past, Algerian authorities have, following the submission of identification or status documents issued by UNHCR, often given refugees a residence permit. In this process, refugees from Arab countries receive preferential treatment compared to those from African countries. With the latter, the authorities have turned toward a more and more arbitrary policy in the last years. Within the context of mass arrests and deportations of migrants which have been taking place since 2014, refugees and asylum seekers registered with the UNHCR Algeria office and migrant workers with a valid visa have been repeatedly deported to Niger or Mali.
The Algerian ‘Harga’ – Irregular Migration to Europe
Algeria’s coast has become more and more important for irregular migrants regarding irregular migration to Europe. Usually they cross the sea in small boats with a maximum of 30 people bound for Spain or Italy. Until 2017, many Algerians traveled to Europe through Turkey, where entry restrictions for Algerians have been less tough compared to other countries, and from there through the Balkan route to Europe instead of traveling to Europe via Libya. This is also why Algerians are one of the most encountered nationalities in Bosnian refugee camps. However, from 1st of October 2019, visa regulations for Algerians between 18 and 35 years old have been tightened in Turkey, making this route less feasible.
The irregular departure of Algerian citizens to the US and to Europe already began in the 1990s. Following the 1992 military coup in Algeria, and the bloody civil war that followed, a visa regime for Algerians was imposed by European states leading the first Algerian irregular migrants – usually called Harraga (Arab for ‘burn’, meant is the burning of the border) in Algeria – to hide on cargo ships or oil tankers bound for the US. After more and more Algerians without residency permits were arrested in US-American ports, Algerian authorities came under heavy pressure by the US and had to massively expand security measures in cargo and oil ports in Algeria. Subsequently, surveillance cameras were installed, walls and fences were built and security services were hired. Thus, since the early 2000s, Algeria’s ports are said to be hermetically sealed.
Ever since, Algerian harragas predominantly aim at reaching Europe. From 2004 onwards, Algerian migrants have travelled by boat from Algeria to Spain or Italy. Until the de facto closing of the Moroccan-Algerian border, Algerian migrants used to also migrate to the EU via Morocco. In the past, irregular crossings of the Mediterranean from Algeria to both EU countries only took place in the far West of the country, namely around the city of Oran (in the provinces Oran, Mostaganem, Ain Temouchent and Tlemcen) as well as in the far east (in the provinces of El Tarf, Annaba and Skikda) due to the proximity to Italy and Spain of both regions. Since 2018, crossing attempts have been also recorded from the central Algerian provinces of Boumerdes, Tizi Ouzou and Béjaïa. From here, the way to Europe (to the Spanish Balearic Islands) is by far longer, but at that time there were no systematic maritime border controls in that area of the Mediterranean.
While Tunisian Harragas migrate irregularly to the EU almost only for socioeconomic reasons, the profiles of Algerian migrants are more complex. Economic and social reasons such as high youth unemployment and a general lack of perspective are also primary reasons for irregular migration from Algeria. But for Algerian Harragas, political reasons and family-related pressure also play an important role. Limitations to civil liberties, societal and religious pressure on adolescents and young adults from the conservative society and a notable lack of prospects regarding individual self-realization and cultural activities are often named as reasons for migration by Algerian Harragas. The gap between the religious and traditional afflicted everyday life and the youth seeking for alternative life plans lets the Harga flourish. Yet another reason for irregular migration is the increasingly restrictive visa regime imposed by European states which had been further tightened since 2015 (most Algerian Harragas have repeatedly applied for Schengen visas before choosing to travel irregularly to Europe).
Due to the economic crisis triggered by the drop in oil prices and the massive rise in inflation that followed, the socioeconomic pressure on large parts of the population increased heavily since 2017. The profile of Algerian Harragas has also changed considerably in recent years, with the number of women, older people and whole families becoming increasingly significant. Due to the lack of prospects in finding employment opportunities in Algeria, more and more well-educated academics also travel irregularely to Europe.
Transit Migration and Immigration to Algeria
Since the late 1990s, Algeria has been an important transit country, particularly for migrants from the Sahel and Western Africa. The routes through the Sahara, which were almost uncontrollable in the past and which have been used as trade routes for centuries, are dangerous, but make it possible to enter Algeria undetected, especially as the national borders between Mauritania, Mali, Niger and Algeria are located in the midst of the desert.
African migrants travelling to Algeria predominantly rely on help by local communities or traffickers, who are familiar with the local topography and know the location of wells and routes suitable to cross the border.
In the past, migrants mainly travelled to Tamanrasset in the South of Algeria before moving to bigger cities, such as Algiers, Oran or Annaba in the north, where they entered the informal sector as day labourers, particularly in the construction and agricultural industries, which heavily rely on cheap labour.
For years, migrants from sub-Saharan Africa were welcomed in diverse sectors of the economy, this being more profitable for those running business than hiring local workers. Due to their work in Algeria’s informal economy, migrants were able to earn the money necessary to travel further to Europe. Usually, they left the country after some months or years, migrating via Libya or Morocco to the EU. Since the borders with the neighbouring countries Morocco, Tunisia and Libya have become less permeable due to intensified border controls and border fortification, countless people on their way to Europe were forced to stay longer in the country.
Due to the lack of residence permits, the everyday situation of African migrant workers and transit migrants in Algeria is mostly precarious. Worker protection is provided only for a few of them. Furthermore, people from sub-Saharan Africa are often subjected to racist attacks by parts of the population and the authorities. Racial violence, verbal abuse and physical assaults targeting sub-Saharan Africans are part of their daily life, but have intensified massively as a consequence of the increasing tense social situation in the country since 2015. Even the government regularly and actively incites sentiments against non-Arab immigrants. During the last term of Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia, who was in office between 2017 and 2019, the government turned on xenophobic propaganda against immigrants on an unprecedented scale. Thereby, repressive actions by authorities against migrants, such as mass arrests and mass deportations, became increasingly common. At the same time, right-wing populist rhetoric by government officials also aimed at distracting the Algerian public from the government’s failed economic and social policies.
Projects of the EU and Algeria’s Self-Interest in Border Security and Control
Concerning border externalisation, control and the prevention of irregular migration, Algeria cooperates with the EU and EU Member States but is considered a difficult partner who implements border control measures also based on its own interests. For years, Algeria has been erecting a border control regime on its external borders, partly equipped with advanced technology which simultaneously serves the purpose of preventing armed groups from infiltrating the country. In the Algerian civil war in the 1990s, armed groups have been pushed back into the desert of Southern Algeria and to Northern Mali and have been using those regions, which are difficult to control, as a backyard to operate almost uncontested by authorities until today.
Algeria’s border control policy and the migration-related cooperation with the EU are therefore in a permanent, rarely consistent state of tension, also due to political insecurity in the Sahel region, the activities of armed groups in the area, the political instabilities in Libya and Mali, as well as the long-lasting, bilateral conflict with Morocco.
Primarily, the wars in Libya and Mali and the attack of armed extremists on the oil and gas plant In Aménas in 2013 play a central role regarding Algeria’s vital interest in an enlarged border control regime. The development of a border control regime on Algeria’s land borders and the repressive deportation policy towards African immigrants actively go along the border externalisation policy of the EU and some of its member states.
Due to its enormous geopolitical influence in terms of hydrocarbon supply for the EU, Algeria is quite impervious regarding being blackmailed by international powers. As a result of its geographical proximity to Europe, its oil and gas exports are indispensable for the EU. Italy and Spain, for example, are directly connected to the Algerian distribution network through three pipelines. Besides, Algeria is one of the few countries worldwide which has a gas liquefaction industry and exports liquidified natural gas (LNG). Additionally, the US and the EU cooperate closely with Algeria in the fight against terrorist groups and drugs and arms smugglers in the Sahel and in Southern Algeria. Arms and security equipment deliveries to Algeria, as well as other forms of security cooperation do not exclusively happen in the context of the EU border externalisation policy. They also take place against a backdrop of complex geopolitical struggles for hegemony, political influence and securing natural resources in North Africa and in the Sahel.
In the past, bilateral cooperation projects between the EU and Algeria have been mainly financed through the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP, ENI) – the key instrument for financing respective programmes – and the Association Agreement between the EU and Algeria, which came into force in 2005. The fight against irregular migration is an explicit part of both the ENP and the Association Agreement. Since 2016, Algeria has also been involved in projects financed by from the European Union Emergency Trust Fund for Africa (EUTF), set up in 2015. Even though there are no projects implemented in the EUTF that exclusively target Algeria, the country participates in six regional programmes financed by the EUTF. Among them is a project about the protection and reintegration of migrants and one programme implemented by the United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime (UNODC) about the fight against criminal networks that are involved in human trafficking. The latter aims at supporting local authorities via capacity building to impede the irregular migration to Europe and take action against human traffickers. Furthermore, the UNODC runs another project in Algeria and Tunisia meant to enhance the analytical capacities of local criminal investigation departments.
Currently, Algerian government representatives regularly participate in meetings of the Contact Group ‘Central Mediterranean Sea’ and have signed the final declaration of the meeting in Berlin in November 2017. Therein, the involved governments express their willingness to strengthen their cooperation in matters of voluntary return and to intensify the fight against human trafficking. In 2016, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) opened an office in Algiers. So far, Algerian authorities have only partially cooperated with IOM. The formal cooperation of Algeria with the European Border Agency Frontex continues to be difficult, though there is an irregular and informal exchange between the two.
Criminalisation of Irregular Emigration and the Influence of Human Trafficking
Irregular emigration from Algeria is considered a criminal act according to Algerian law. In 2008, Law 08-11 came into force, which applies to foreigners and criminalises the irregular entry and departure as well as the residence without a valid residency document. Infringements of the residency stipulations are punished with a fine of up to 200,000 dinars (about 1,500 euros), with imprisonment between two and five years and entry bans of up to ten years. The law replaces a regulation from 1962 and allows Algerian authorities to confiscate all assets used during the irregular residence and also imposes sanctions on people who accommodate or support persons that live irregularly in the country with fines of up to 20,000 dinars (about 150 euros).
In February 2009, Law 09-01 came into force, which applies to foreigners and Algerians as well and considers the irregular entry and departure and the irregular crossing of borders as criminal offences that are punished with imprisonment from two to six months. Human trafficking or supporting services are prosecuted and punished with up to 20 years of imprisonment. The law is applied to intercepted Algerian Harragas, but not consistently.
If there are exclusively Algerians on an intercepted boat, the judiciary often abstains from harsh sentences and only imposes fines. Even if someone is arrested repeatedly, Algerian Harragas are usually only sentenced to two months on probation. The Algerian Harga is generally tolerated by the state also due to domestic political reasons – contrary to migration attempts by African migrants. Therefore, Algerian smugglers avoid transporting foreign migrants, as there might be stiffer penalties and charges.
Meanwhile, traffickers that operate in the Mediterranean region occasionally cooperate with Algerian security forces, with reports suggesting that officials take bribes and in return let boats pass. Contrastingly, Algerian judicial authorities are stricter when it comes to the persecution of traffickers and have repeatedly imposed severe penalties on those suspected. The traffickers operate primarily in Oran and Annaba, though Algerian Harragas only use them rarely, with the overwhelming part is organising the crossing themselves. Mostly they come together in small groups of up to 30 persons, share the costs of buying boats and engines and set sail autonomously. If they get intercepted, authorities try to figure out who among those in the group were in charge of steering the boat and occasionally press charges against those individuals.
Armament and Equipment Cooperation and Security Policy in the Sahel
In 2005, Algeria initiated a large-scale modernisation programme for its military and police forces. This did not only include buying armaments and equipment abroad, but also building local production facilities in the country. Ever since, Algeria’s military expenditures amount to more than five percent of the gross domestic product (maximum value of 6.55% reached in 2016) and in certain times more than ten percent of public expenditure. Initially, the government aimed to protect the southern provinces and borders against potentially invading, armed groups from the Sahel, whereas nowadays armament and modernisation of the military and police forces and the construction of border fortifications on Algeria’s land borders also take place in the context of the wars in Libya and Mali and the externalisation of the European external borders.
Particularly since 2011, Algeria has intensified its efforts to reduce the permeability of its borders and – entirely in line with the EU – to push border restrictions forward. In 2012, the construction of a 50 kilometres long border surveillance system on the border with Mali was erected and the army’s special forces were transferred to several frontier provinces. Subsequently, the construction of sand barriers along the borders to Tunisia and Libya followed, which are equipped with electronic surveillance systems and are believed to stretch over more than 350 kilometres. The Algerian-Moroccan border is nowadays virtually sealed off with a 500 kilometres long fence, a trench partly filled with water and several dozen of border posts.
Additionally, Algeria strengthened its cooperation with Mauritania and Tunisia concerning border controls and, in 2018, announced plans to train elite troops in Mali and Niger. Meanwhile, on the border between the coastal provinces of Oran and Ain Temouchent – the most important departure region in Algeria for irregular migrants –, the construction of a new maritime base for the coast guards was initiated in 2018.
At the same time, Algeria has started rearming its military and police apparatus on an unprecedented scale. The government has occasionally purchased armaments such as mine clearance vessels, artillery or other equipment in China, South Korea, Italy or France – though Russia remains Algeria’s most important arms supplier until today. Since 2014, Russian companies have received orders from Algeria for 42 helicopter gunships, 12 Sukhoi fighter jets, two submarines and hundreds of main battle tanks – among them 200 to be assembled locally in Algeria.
Meanwhile, Germany has become Algeria’s second most important supplier of armaments as well as security and surveillance equipment and technology. Already in 2008, Algerian President Bouteflika and German Chancellor Merkel agreed on an armament deal worth more than ten billion euros. This deal is composed of four frigates (ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems, TKMS) including the training of the crews by the German Armed Forces and the construction of a shipyard for the assembly of two of the four warships. So far (until November 2019), two frigates have been delivered, but there has been no news for years concerning the construction of the dockyard where the other two warships are supposed to be assembled. Furthermore, the deal also included the construction of local production facilities for the Rheinmetall produced NBC armoured reconnaissance vehicle ‘Fuchs’ and numerous vehicles by the German Daimler AG. The production companies assembling and constructing these vehicles are all joint ventures, of which the Algerian Ministry of Defence holds a majority stake of 51%. Through the development of local production and assembly plants, Algeria aims to promote a technology transfer in order to become more independent from arms and equipment deliveries from abroad.
The three assembly plants of Daimler, where Mercedes-Benz-vans (Sprinter), the 4×4 G-Class as well as military trucks (Zetros, Actros, Unimog) are assembled, are of particular relevance to Algeria’s border control regime. The vehicles produced here are used by the Algerian military, the gendarmerie – which is controlled by the army – and several police authorities. Civil versions of those vehicles are also used by the Ministry of Education and Health or the state-owned oil company Sonatrach. Since 2019, the multi-purpose tank “Boxer” is also assembled in the Rheinmetall production plant in Aïn Smara in East Algeria, besides the ‘Fuchs’. Meanwhile, the German Federal Government not only approved the export of ‘Fuchs’-kits valued at more than half a billion euros in 2018, but also 50 kits for the ‘Boxer’ which have been reportedly delivered to Algeria in August 2019. In Sidi Bel-Abbès in Western Algeria a joint venture of the Algerian Ministry of Defence and the German company Hensoldt (formerly Rohde & Schwartz, Carl Zeiss and Cassidian) produces electronic and optronic equipment such as surveillance and search radars and optronic systems like thermal imaging cameras.
Algeria’s Controversial Deportation Policy
Since the 2000s, Algeria has been reacting to sealing-off efforts by the EU with repressive measures against African migrants living in the country. Morocco was the first country in the region to closely cooperate with the EU in terms of border externalisation. Already in the early 2000s, Morocco was deporting African immigrants arrested in the country to neighboring Algeria, systematically violating international refugee law. In doing so, authorities repeatedly dropped large groups of arrested people close to the Algerian border and forced them to cross the border by foot. Algeria imitated this procedure and started for its part to drop arrested African migrants in the border region and send them to Morocco. While both countries thereby initiated a downright ping-pong game with people on the move for years, at the same time both governments began to fortify the common border in areas frequently used by people on the move, especially near the cities of Oujda and Maghnia.
At that time, Algerian government representatives claimed that Algeria was by no means going to bear the brunt of a restrictive EU migration policy and, thereby, legitimised their own deportation practices. Since 2014, Algeria has also been putting this deportation policy into practice on its Southern borders. In December 2014, Algeria and Niger agreed on a repatriation agreement. However, the precise content of this deal remains unknown until today. In December 2014, Algerian authorities began to transfer Nigerien migrants in bus convoys of several hundred people to the Nigerien border and to drop them in the desert. Up until today, police and gendarmerie forces conduct regular raids in urban areas known for their large migrant population or on construction sites (many of the informally employed migrants work in the construction sector) across the country, arresting hundreds of people believed to live in Algeria irregularly without adequately controlling their residency status. Those arrested are subsequently detained in detention facilities such as the Zéralda facility east of Algiers, where they mostly only stay a few nights before being transferred in large bus convoys to the city of Tamanrasset, located about 2,000 kilometres south of Algiers. Here they usually spend some more nights in temporary shelters (under catastrophic hygienic conditions) before they are taken in military trucks to the border to Niger. Here, often at night and without water or any food, they are dropped in the desert and forced to cross the border to Niger on foot.
In the first two years after the beginning of these mass deportations, at least 45 convoys with more than 19,000 people were registered. Until 2017, such convoys were organised twice a month. After Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia – a hardliner in migration issues strongly and consistently resorting to right-wing xenophobic rhetoric – took office, the government intensified its deportation practices on an unprecedented scale. Ever since, not only Nigerien citizens, but also people from West and Central African countries and other Sahel states as well as citizens of Syria, Yemen, Palestine, Pakistan and Bangladesh have been arrested and deported to Niger in weekly large-scale expulsion operations. The Nigerien government has repeatedly complained about the expulsion of non-Nigerien citizens to Niger, but to no avail as Algerian authorities persistently ignored such complaints by the government in Niamey and continues to expel non-Nigerien citizens until today. During the tenure of Ouyahia, deportations to Mali have also been recorded much more frequently. Until early 2019, a total of up to 55,000 people are assumed to have been deported to Niger or Mali by Algerian authorities. Despite the mass protests that rocked Algeria between February 2019 and March 2020, authorities continued their restrictive deportation policy and have expelled thousands of people to Niger over the year – though on a less extensive scale than before. Just between September and October 2019 more than 3,200 people have been deported to the neighbouring country. In March 2020, expulsion operations to Niger have been largely scaled down due to the Covid-19 pandemic. However, in September 2020, Algerian authorities resumed their illegal deportation practices on a scale never recorded before. Within only four weeks, Algerian authorities expelled about 6,500 people to Niger. Meanwhile, Algerian authorities threatened arrested refugees and migrants with deportation by plane to their countries of origin, but it has not been confirmed yet whether Algeria’s government systematically deports people by air.
Repatriation of Algerian Citizens
Officially, Algeria cooperates with EU countries concerning the repatriation of Algerian citizens who are due to be returned from European countries, but in practice repatriations are complicated. Algerian embassies and consulates often only meet the bureaucratic demands for a repatriation after lengthy procedures. Between 1994 and 2007, Algeria signed repatriation agreements with six European countries (France in 1994, Germany in 1997, Spain in 2002, United Kingdom and Italy in 2006, Switzerland in 2007). With these agreements, Algeria undertakes to accommodate deported Algerians or third-country nationals who travelled irregularely to Europe via Algeria. In the context of her last visit to Algiers in September 2018, the German Chancellor Merkel and Algeria’s Prime Minister Ouyahia assured that recent repatriations of Algerians from Germany went smoother than before. In 2015, only 57 repatriations from Germany to Algeria have been recorded, whereas in 2017, that number had risen to 504 and, during the first six months of 2018, 350 had already taken place. Algeria has also introduced biometric identity documents, which has been a major demand by the EU for years in order to facilitate the identification of people who were subject to final deportation. By the end of 2019, Algerian authorities had issued almost 15 million biometric passports.
Which Role play (which) NGOs?
Even though Algerian human rights groups, NGOs and independent unions engage with campaigns and educational work against Algeria’s deportation and migration policy, the repressive actions of the Algerian state against African migrants and Europe’s restrictive immigration and visa-issuing policy, these attempt have been so far only partially successful in mobilizing activists within the Algerian society, also due to the rising appearance of right-wing populist discourses. Even though civil society organizations, critical of the government (see section 8.), play an important role, they have been too weak so far to create a significant public support for campaigns against fortifying Algerian borders and the deportation policy, and have consequently failed to put the government under significant pressure.
Meanwhile, the government tries to incorporate civic actors into its restrictive migration and refugee policy in order to create the impression that, for example, deportations are conducted in line with international standards. The Algerian branch of the Red Crescent is so far the only civic organization which accompanies the convoys to Tamanrasset and has claimed that the handling of arrested and deported people by Algerian authorities is in line with international law. The IOM office in Algiers is so far not systematically integrated in deportation operations to Niger and Mali, but has taken part as an observer in one convoy from Algiers to Tamanrasset, which was organized by Algerian authorities. A first collective deportation of 166 Nigerien migrants from the south-Algerian city of Tamanrasset to Niamey organised by IOM took place in October 2019. Thus, an intensification of the cooperation of Algeria with IOM appears to be just a matter of time.
Economic Interests – Who profits?
The major winners of the EU-border externalization in Algeria are the Algerian security apparatus and local companies producing and assembling security goods such as vehicles and tanks (supplied as well from abroad). Interior authorities, the military and the Ministry of Defence profit from the deliveries of arms and equipment and use them to modernize its fleets and equipment, while Algerian officials take part in international trainings. The development of a local manufacturing industry, which was meant to promote a technology transfer to Algeria so far only shows few effects in this regard and fails to meet Algeria’s expectations. The country still relies on deliveries from Germany and other countries in order to maintain the production in those plants. This aspect can be regarded as an extension of the influence of the German Federal Government in Algeria in terms of geopolitical matters and security policy. (If the German Federal Government does not authorize deliveries of spare parts for the plants, the production comes to a standstill.)
Next to foreign suppliers of armaments and equipment, the companies that have built up joint ventures and local production plants for arms and equipment together with the Algerian state, also profit massively. These include German companies as Daimler, Rheinmetall and Hensoldt, but also Russian and Italian companies, whose local production plants are still under construction. Meanwhile, there are indications of corruption concerning some of the closed arms deals in recent years. Thyssen-Krupp (TKMS) and Algeria have agreed on the delivery of two frigates of the type MEKO A-200 – including armament, but, according to reports, TKMS was not buying the ammunition directly from European producers but was using a Lebanese intermediary. Since those details became public, there are serious concerns of corruption and embezzlement.
Who are the Losers?
Without a doubt, migrants and refugees who get illegally deported by Algerian authorities systematically violating international refugee law, can be considered among the losers of the Algerian border control policy. Besides that, they are also forced into precarious living and working conditions due to inadequate regulations regarding residency and work permit regulations within the country. Furthermore, right-wing populist propaganda strongly fueled racially motivated attacks on migrants. This kind of xenophobic public discourse is a deliberated attempt by the government to play off the lower-income sections of the population and immigrants against each other. Due to the European and Algerian border control policies, Algerian migrants are forced to turn to more dangerous routes to cross the Mediterranean. The population living in the border areas, especially near the more densely populated Moroccan-Algerian border, can also be considered among the losers of these policies. There, due to the de facto closing down of the borders, families get separated and people have been deprived of job opportunities and income.
Which Resistance exists?
Various Algerian civic actors such as NGOs, youth organisations or unions actively mobilise against deportations and repression of governmental agencies against migrants living in Algeria. Through campaigns and educational work, but also through the organising of workshops, civic actors try to initiate debates and particularly to sensitise the Algerian youth. Self-governed initiatives by African migrants living in Algeria exist in quite a few cities, but due to the restrictive Algerian NGO-legislation, they are pushed into informality and are critically eyed by the local population. However, due to the protest movement that started in early 2019 across Algeria and heavy state repression against activists, opposition figures and journalists since late 2019, Algerian activists and NGOs formerly engaged in lobbying for migrant rights are significantly occupied with the local protest movement and governmental repression. Migration-related activities came to a standstill in 2019.
The most important NGOs that are critical towards Algeria’s policy concerning migration, refugees and deportation are the highly active youth organisation RAJ (Rassemblement actions jeunesse), the offices of the independent Algerian Human Rights League (Ligue Algèrienne pour la Défense des Droit de l‘Homme, LADDH) in Algiers and Béjaïa, but also feminist groups in Oran and independent labor unions like the autonomous federation of trade unions, namely the Confédération Générale Autonome des Travailleurs en Algérie (CGATA), which stands for the rights of migrant workers and refugees. Particularly the RAJ has been a primary objective of security authorities since the beginning of the ongoing wave of protests against the ruling class. A group of RAJ activists who played a leading role in campaigns against Algeria’s repressive deportation policy have been temporarily imprisoned and are still subjected to court proceedings for their participation in protests critical of the government. Meanwhile, on the de facto closed Moroccan-Algerian border (and especially near Oujda and Maghnia) protest actions and small demonstrations of people living there have been taking place since 2015. Their demands include the opening of the border.
Materials & Sources
- Analysis of the German-Egyptian safety cooperation and Algeria’s role for the EU border regime in the Mediterranean region (RLS)
- Extracts from answers to parliamentary questions relating to externalisation of the EU border
- EU-Algeria association agreement
- EUTF-projects in Algeria