Published October 29th, 2020 - written by: Sofian Philip Naceur
Hard Facts and a Brief Characterization
Located on the South Mediterranean coast, Algeria is Africa’s largest country, covering more than 2.4 million km². Its coast stretches for about 1,000 kilometers along the Mediterranean and its land borders are more than 6,700 kilometers long. Algeria borders Morocco and the Western Sahara to the West, Mali, Mauritania and Niger to the South and Libya and Tunisia to the East. About 90 percent of the population (around 44 million in 2022) lives along a small coastal strip in the country’s north, while the vastest part of the state is barren desert – a mere 17 percent of Algeria’s territory is fit for agricultural use.
Sunni Muslims constitute about 99 percent of the population. Roughly three-quarters are Arabs and one-quarter Berbers (Amazighs), most of whom live in the Kabylia region east of Algiers. Nomadic tribes such as the Tuareg mainly reside in the deserts in the south of the country. Algeria’s three official languages are Arabic, French and Amazigh. Some 45 percent of the population is under the age of 30. In 2018, population growth was about 1.6 percent. There are no accurate official figures on the foreign populations living in Algeria, as a notable percentage of people from African states living in the country is not officially registered with Algerian authorities. The number of officially registered migrant workers is comparatively low, with around 60 percent coming from China, Turkey and Egypt.
Economy and Government
Olives and dates are among Algeria’s primary agricultural exports. In terms of imports, by contrast, the country purchases most of its food and consumer goods abroad to cover local demand due to the structural weaknesses of the agricultural and the industrial sectors. Nevertheless, Algeria is rich in mineral resources. Besides petroleum and natural gas, Algeria also has gold, iron, phosphate, tungsten and diamond mines. Approximately 98 percent of the country’s foreign exchange income and more than 60 percent of the state budget derive from oil and natural gas export revenues. For this reason, the state-owned oil and gas company Sonatrach is a key asset to Algeria’s government revenues and general economic performance.
As a traditional rentier state, Algeria is therefore highly dependent on the world market price for hydrocarbons. In times of high oil prices (as seen between 2003 and 2014), the government is able to spend its oil rent, increase subsidies and invest in state-funded social services such as social housing and infrastructure projects and affordable or free education and healthcare. If the oil rent decreases (as witnessed in the mid-1980s and since 2015), the state is forced to adjust its welfare policies, cut back social benefits and raise taxes. A collapsing oil rent therefore inevitably entails economic and currency crises and aggravates social inequalities. As soon as oil revenues drop, Algeria’s currency, the dinar (DZD), is exposed to massive pressure. Imports become more expensive and the cost of living, which is highly dependent on the exchange rate, rises. As earlier in the 1980s, this situation has led to increasing socioeconomically motivated protests and strikes since 2017, with the public calling on the government to initiate economic reforms and end mismanagement and corruption.
Algeria is governed by a state class which holds the monopoly on the distribution of the profits generated by oil and gas exports. Declining oil rents are therefore not only accompanied by broader economic crises and protests, but also trigger serious clashes within the ruling class about the rent’s distribution. This highly fragmented state class consists of an opaque web of cadres from the military and security apparatus and the state bureaucracy, political forces that emerged from the former single party Front de Libération National (FLN), private economic elites and parts of the co-opted opposition, all of which align along ideological and regional fault lines to form factions competing for political influence and economic privileges.
Between 2003 and 2014, a time of economic prosperity, Algeria’s government launched numerous construction and housing programs, invested in infrastructure modernization projects, gave young people easy access to loans to help them set up businesses, and increased food and fuel subsidies. Despite rampant corruption in the security and bureaucratic apparatus, the state was able to meet the population’s basic needs during that period and buy social peace in the country. Collapsing oil and gas prices since 2014, however, have almost halved the state budget and left large parts of the population in a massively deteriorated socioeconomic situation. The mass revolt (in Algeria generally referred to as hirak, the Arabic term for “movement”) that erupted in February 2019 to call for political and socioeconomic reforms is also fueled by massive social inequalities. It is directed against the ruling class that has governed Algeria since independence in 1962 and which, in the eyes of large parts of the population, has lost its legitimacy. One of the movement’s core demands is a democratic and civil state in which the military no longer interferes in the country’s politics. Real reforms, however, are not to be expected for the time being, as the hirak has been facing a fierce wave of repression from the regime since 2020 and has lost much of its traction.
With regard to migration between Africa and Europe, Algeria occupies a key role. It 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, primarily from Syria and Yemen, migrate through or to Algeria. At the same time, Algeria is 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 food and consumer goods, but economically they are not as important as in other countries of the region.
According to UNHCR data, about 98,000 recognized refugees (as of September 2021) 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 remain almost completely dependent on external support for access to healthcare, food, education, etc. In addition, as of mid-2021, some 8,000 people, mainly from Syria, Mali, Palestine and Yemen, were recognized as refugees by UNHCR in Algeria.
Algerian laws make vague references to international refugee law, but lack a statutory right to asylum. De facto, UNHCR is the single contact point in Algeria for refugees and asylum seekers to apply for subsidiary protection status, assistance or resettlement. In the past, Algerian authorities have, following the submission of identification or status documents issued by UNHCR, often granted refugees a residence permit. Refugees from Arab states are given preference over African refugees. With the latter, the authorities have adopted an increasingly arbitrary policy in the last years, deporting UNHCR-recognized refugees or labor migrants holding valid visas in the wake of the mass arrests and deportations of migrants which have been taking place since 2014.
The Algerian Harraga – Irregular Migration to Europe
Algeria’s coast has become increasingly important for irregular migrants aiming to reach Europe. Usually they leave in small boats carrying a maximum of 30 people from the Algerian coast to Spain or Italy. Until 2017, many Algerians sought different routes. Despite the higher costs involved, they would attempt to enter Europe irregularly via Libya, or fly to Turkey, for which they could easily obtain a visa, in order to then reach Europe via the Balkan route. This explains why Algerians are one of the most encountered nationalities in Bosnian refugee camps. However, Turkey tightened its visa regulations for Algerians aged 18 to 35 in October 2019.
Algerian citizens began to leave Algeria irregularly for the US and Europe in the 1990s. Following the 1992 military coup in Algeria and the blood-drenched civil war that followed, European states imposed a visa regime for Algerians that lead the first Algerian irregular migrants – often called harraga (Arabic for ‘to burn’, in reference to the burning of the borders) by their fellow Algerians – to hide on US-bound cargo ships or oil tankers. As more and more undocumented Algerians were arrested in US ports, Algerian authorities came under heavy pressure from the US and were forced to massively tighten security measures in Algeria’s cargo and oil ports. Surveillance cameras were installed, walls and fences erected and security services hired, leaving Algeria’s ports effectively impenetrable since the early 2000s.
As a result, the harragamade Europe their primary destination. Since 2004, Algerian migrants have been traveling by boat from Algeria to Spain or Italy. Until the de facto closing of the Moroccan-Algerian border, Algerian migrants also used to migrate to the EU via Morocco. Until 2018, attempts to cross the Mediterranean were only undertaken in the country’s far west, near the city of Oran (in the provinces Oran, Mostaganem, Aïn Temouchent and Tlemcen) as well as in the far east in the provinces of El Tarf, Annaba and Skikda – due to these regions’ proximity to Italy and Spain. However, in 2018, first crossings were also made from the central Algerian provinces of Boumerdes, Tizi Ouzou and Béjaïa. From here, the route to Europe (to the Spanish Balearic Islands) is longer, but there have been no systematic sea controls in place in this part of the Mediterranean. Due to the ongoing economic and social crisis and the political reprisals against the hirak and the opposition since 2020, the central Algerian route is now used much more frequently.
The profiles of Algerian irregular migrants are complex. They feel driven out of the country by economic and social factors, such as high youth unemployment and a general lack of prospects. But political, family and cultural aspects are equally decisive: Their restricted political freedom, the conservative values and pressures imposed on them by their families and religious authorities as well as a dramatic lack of opportunity to pursue individual and cultural fulfillment. Yet another reason for the increase of irregular migration to Europe is the increasingly restrictive visa regime put in place by European states, which has become even more restrictive since 2015 and fueled illegal migration. Most Algerian harraga have repeatedly applied for Schengen visas before seeking irregular ways to enter Europe.
Yet the profile of Algerian harraga has changed significantly since 2017. If previously it was almost exclusively young men who made the crossing to Europe, the proportion of women, older people and entire families has increased dramatically. The number of highly qualified academics irregularly crossing to Europe is also on the rise as they face a bleak employment opportunities.
Transit Migration and Immigration to Algeria
Since the late 1990s, Algeria has been an important transit country, in particular for migrants from the Sahel and Western Africa. The routes through the Sahara, which were for centuries used as trade routes and have proven almost impossible to control, are dangerous, but they allowed people to enter Algeria quickly and unnoticed because the state borders between Mauritania, Mali, Niger and Algeria are located in the middle of the desert, which made them difficult to monitor systematically. Migrants traveling to Algeria predominantly rely on help from local communities or smugglers who are familiar with the area and know wells, passable routes and local conditions in the border regions.
In the past, migrants mainly traveled to Tamanrasset in the south of Algeria before moving on to bigger cities such as Algiers, Oran or Annaba in the north, where they were hired as day laborers in the informal sector, mostly in the construction industry, which was looking for cheap labor. For years, migrants from sub-Saharan Africa were in high demand in diverse sectors of the economy, as employing them was more profitable for businesses than contracting local workers. Those jobs in Algeria’s informal economy allowed migrants to earn the money they needed to travel on to Europe. Usually, they left the country after a few months or years, migrating via Libya or Morocco to the EU. But with intensified border controls and border fortification making the borders to Morocco, Tunisia and Libya less permeable, countless people hoping to reach Europe were forced to remain in the country longer.
Due to the lack of residence permits, African migrant workers and transit migrants in Algeria find themselves in overwhelmingly precarious circumstances. Only few enjoy worker protection. What is more, people from sub-Saharan Africa are often subject to racist attacks by parts of the population and the authorities. Racial violence, verbal abuse and physical assaults are part of sub-Saharan Africans’ daily experience and have intensified massively due to the country’s increasing social tensions since 2015. Even the government regularly and actively fuels sentiment against non-Arab immigrants. Under former head of government Ahmed Ouyahia, who was in office from 2017 to 2019, the government unleashed xenophobic propaganda on an unprecedented scale in order to justify the authorities’ repressions against migrants, which included mass arrests and mass deportations, and to deflect public attention from the government’s failed economic and social policies.
EU Projects and Algeria’s Motives to Expand Border Security and Control
While Algeria works with the EU and EU Member States when it comes to border externalization, border control and preventing irregular migration, the country is considered a difficult partner that pursues its own agenda in implementing border control measures. For years, Algeria has been building a border control regime along its external borders, partly equipped with advanced technology, to prevent armed groups from gaining a foothold in the country. Since the late 1990s, armed groups active in the Algerian civil war have retreated to the deserts of southern Algeria and northern Mali and have been using these difficult to control regions to remain under the radar ever since.
Algeria’s border control policy and its cooperation with the EU on migration policy are therefore competing with the country’s desire to tackle security developments in the Sahel, the activities of armed groups in the region, instability in Libya and Mali, and the long-standing bilateral conflict with Morocco. The wars in Libya and Mali and the attack of armed extremists on the oil and gas facility In Aménas in 2013 are the major motives behind Algeria’s interest in establishing tight control over its borders. By erecting a control regime along its land borders and imposing repressive deportation policies against African immigrants, Algeria is at once actively helping Europe to externalize its borders and pursuing its own security and regional policy goals.
Algeria’s vital role both geopolitically and securing the EU’s access to energy means that international powers only have limited leverage to blackmail the government. The country’s geographical proximity to Europe make its oil and gas exports indispensable to the EU. Italy and Spain, for example, have three pipelines directly linking up to the Algerian distribution network. Besides, Algeria is one of the few countries worldwide to both produce and export liquefied natural gas (LNG). In addition, the US and the EU cooperate closely with Algeria in the fight against terrorist groups and drugs and arms trafficking in the Sahel. Arms and security equipment deliveries to Algeria as well as other forms of security cooperation are therefore not exclusively happening in the context of the EU’s border externalization policy but are taking place against the backdrop of in part highly complex geopolitical hegemonic struggles over political influence and resources in North Africa and the Sahel.
In the past, it was the European Neighborhood Policy (ENP, ENI) that defined the scope of bilateral cooperation between the EU and Algeria. Alongside the Association Agreement signed between the EU and Algeria, which came into force in 2005, this was the key instrument for funding bilateral cooperation projects with Algeria. The fight against irregular migration is explicitly addressed in both the ENP and the Association Agreement. Since 2016, Algeria has also been involved in projects funded by the European Union Emergency Trust Fund for Africa (EUTF), which was set up in 2015. While none of projects implemented under the EUTF exclusively target Algeria, the country participates in five regional EUTF projects, including a project aiming to protect and reintegrate migrants and a program implemented by the United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime (UNODC) to fight criminal networks involved in human smuggling and trafficking. The latter aims to help local authorities prevent irregular migration to Europe and take action against human traffickers. A further UNODC project in Algeria and Tunisia is meant to equip local criminal investigation departments with better analytical tools for their work.
In parallel, Algerian government representatives have been regularly attending the meetings of the Central Mediterranean Contact Group, even signing the final declaration of the November 2017 meeting held in Bern, in which the signatories expressed their willingness to implement measures to protect asylum seekers and migrants, expand cooperation in matters of voluntary return and intensify the fight against human smuggling. In 2016, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) opened an office in Algiers. So far, Algerian authorities have only partially cooperated with the IOM. Algeria’s formal cooperation with the European Border Agency Frontex remains difficult, though there are irregular and informal exchanges between Algerian authorities and Frontex.
Criminalization of Irregular Departures and the Significance of Human Trafficking
Algerian legislation defines irregular departure from Algeria as a criminal act. Law no. 08-11, which came into force in 2008 and applies exclusively to foreigners, criminalizes irregular entry and departure as well as residing in the country without a valid residence permit. Violations of residence regulations are subject to fines of up to 200,000 dinars (about 1,500 euro), two to five years of imprisonment and entry bans of up to ten years. The law replaces a 1962 regulation and allows Algerian authorities to confiscate all assets used by the person during their “illegal” residence; it also imposes sanctions on people who accommodate or support persons living irregularly in the country with fines of up to 20,000 dinars (around 150 euro).
Law no. 09-01, which entered into force in February 2009 and applies equally to Algerians and foreigners, declares irregular entries, departures and border crossings outside regular checkpoints (by land, sea or air) to be criminal offenses punishable by prison terms of two to six months. Human smuggling, including attempts to aid and abet human smuggling, are punishable with up to 20 years of imprisonment. The law is applied against intercepted Algerian harraga, but not consistently. If only Algerians are aboard an intercepted boat, judges often turn a blind eye and usually issue only minor fines. Even if arrested repeatedly, Algerian harraga are usually only sentenced to two months on probation. The Algerian harrag is tolerated by the state for domestic political reasons, very much in contrast to the attempts undertaken by African migrants to leave the country. Algerian smugglers thus avoid transporting foreign migrants, as they face severer penalties and charges for human trafficking.
Meanwhile, smugglers operating in the Mediterranean region occasionally cooperate with Algerian security forces, with reports suggesting that officials take bribes to let boats pass. When it comes to persecuting smugglers, however, Algerian judicial authorities are stricter and have repeatedly imposed severe penalties on suspects. The smugglers operate primarily in Oran and Annaba. However, Algerian harraga rarely contact them to arrange their journeys, generally preferring to self-organize crossings. They usually form small groups of up to 30 people, share the purchase of boats and engines, and set sail. If they are intercepted, the police and judiciary try to identify those in the group who were in charge of the boat, sometimes initiating lawsuits against individuals.
Arms and Military Cooperation Programs and Security Policy in the Sahel
In 2005, Algeria launched a large-scale modernization program for its military and police forces. This not only included buying arms and equipment abroad, but also building local production facilities in the country. The share of military expenditure in Algeria’s gross domestic product has been rising steadily ever since (peaking at 6.7 per cent in 2020) and in some years has accounted for well over ten per cent of government spending. Initially, the government aimed to protect the southern provinces and borders against potentially armed groups invading the country from the Sahel, but programs to modernize and improve military and police equipment and fortify Algeria’s land borders also aim to contain the wars in Libya and Mali and externalize European borders.
Especially since 2011, Algeria has intensified its efforts to minimize the permeability of its borders and – entirely in line with the EU – to tighten border restrictions. In 2012, a 50-kilometer-long border surveillance system was erected on the border with Mali and the army’s special forces were transferred to several frontier provinces. This was followed by the construction of sand barriers along the borders to Tunisia and Libya, which are equipped with electronic surveillance systems covering a stretch of more than 350 kilometers. The Algerian-Moroccan border is today virtually sealed by a 500-kilometer-long fence, a partly water-filled trench and several dozen border posts. In addition, Algeria has been cooperating more closely with Mauritania and Tunisia to increase border controls, and in 2018 the government announced plans to train elite troops in Mali and Niger. Meanwhile, on the border between the coastal provinces of Oran and Aïn Temouchent – the most important departure region in Algeria for irregular migrants –, the construction of a new maritime coast guard base was initiated in 2018.
At the same time, Algeria has started to upgrade its military and police apparatus on an unprecedented scale. The government has made isolated purchases, investing in mine clearance vessels, artillery or other equipment from South Korea, Italy or France, for instance, though Russia remains Algeria’s primary arms supplier. Since 2014, Russian companies have received orders from Algeria for 42 helicopter gunships, 12 Sukhoi fighter jets, two submarines and hundreds of battle tanks, 200 of which are to be assembled in facilities in Algeria.
Germany has now risen to become Algeria’s third largest supplier of defense and security-related equipment and surveillance technology, after Russia and China. Already in 2008, Algerian President Bouteflika and German Chancellor Merkel agreed on an arms deal worth more than ten billion euro which involved the delivery of four frigates (ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems, TKMS), crew training provided by the German Armed Forces and the construction of a shipyard for the assembly of two of the four warships. So far, two frigates have been delivered, but there has been no news since concerning the construction of the dockyard at which the other two warships were supposed to be assembled. The deal also included the construction of local production facilities for Rheinmetall’s armored NBC reconnaissance vehicle “Fuchs” and numerous Daimler AG vehicles. The local companies assembling these vehicles are all joint ventures in which the Algerian Ministry of Defence holds a majority stake of 51 percent. By setting up local production and assembly facilities, Algeria aims to transfer technology into the country and cut its dependency on arms and equipment deliveries from abroad.
Of particular relevance to Algeria’s border regime are Daimler’s three factories for assembling Mercedes-Benz vans (Sprinter), the 4x4 G Class as well as military trucks (Zetros, Actros, Unimog). Vehicles produced in these factories are used by the Algerian military, the army-controlled gendarmerie and several police authorities. Civilian versions of these vehicles are also used by the Ministry of Education and Health. Since 2019, the multi-purpose tank “Boxer” is also being assembled at the Rheinmetall production facility in Aïn Smara in east Algeria, alongside the “Fuchs”.Meanwhile, the German Federal Government has not only approved the export of “Fuchs” kits valued at more than half a billion euro in 2018, but also 50 “Boxer” kits, which were reportedly delivered to Algeria in August 2019. In Sidi Bel-Abbès in western Algeria, a joint venture involving the Algerian Ministry of Defence and the German company Hensoldt (formerly Rohde & Schwartz, Carl Zeiss and Cassidian) produces electronic equipment, such as surveillance and search radars, and optronic systems including thermal imaging cameras.
Algeria’s Controversial Deportation Policy
Morocco was the first country in the region to back the EU’s move to externalize its borders. Already in the early 2000s, it began to deport African immigrants and transit migrants arrested in the country to Algeria, in violation of international refugee law. Authorities repeatedly dropped large groups of arrested people close to the Algerian border and forced them to cross the border by foot. Algeria soon emulated this practice, releasing arrested African migrants in the border region and sending them to Morocco. While upholding this back-and-forth movement of refugees over the years, both countries also worked to fortify their shared border in areas frequently used by migrants, especially near the cities of Oujda and Maghnia.
Already then, Algerian government representatives insisted that the country would not absorb the impacts of the EU’s restrictive migration policy and used this refusal to give their own deportation practices a thin veil of legitimacy. In 2014, Algeria then introduced this approach along its southern borders. Algeria and Niger had just signed a readmission agreement, the details of which, however, have not been published until today. Then, in December 2014, Algerian authorities began to organize bus convoys shipping hundreds of Nigerien migrants at a time into the desert close to the Nigerien border. To this day, police and gendarmerie raid neighborhoods frequented by migrants in Algiers, Oran, and other cities (many informally employed migrants work in the construction sector, which makes construction sites a primary target of authorities during raids), arbitrarily arresting people without checking their residence permits and taking them to accommodation centers such as Camp Zéralda east of Algiers, where they spend only a few nights. In large bus convoys, the arrested are then relocated to Tamanrasset about 2,000 kilometers south of Algiers. Here they usually spend a number of nights in temporary shelters (under disastrous sanitary conditions) before being taken to the border to Niger in military trucks, where they are dropped, often at night and without water or food, in the desert and forced to enter Niger on foot.
In the first two years of these mass deportations, at least 45 convoys with more than 19,000 people were registered. Until 2017, such convoys were organized twice a month. After Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia – a hardliner on migration issues strongly and consistently resorting to right-wing xenophobic rhetoric – took office, the deportations reached an unprecedented scale. During the large-scale raids, which continue to take place on a weekly basis, it is not only Nigerien citizens who fear arrest. People from West Africa and other Sahel countries are also deported to Niger – a practice which continues unabated despite complaints from the Nigerien government. With Ouyahia at the country’s helm, the frequency of deportations to Mali saw a similar rise. In total, up to 55,000 people are reported to have been deported to Niger or Mali by Algerian authorities as of early 2019. Despite the hirak revolt that erupted in February 2019, security authorities upheld their restrictive policy throughout the year, deporting thousands of people to Niger. Between September and October 2019 alone, more than 3,200 people were forced to cross the border, according to reports. In March 2020, deportations to Niger were largely scaled down due to the Covid-19 pandemic. However, in September 2020, Algerian authorities resumed their illegal practices on a scale never recorded before, expelling about 6,500 people to Niger in only four weeks. In 2021, around 25,400 people are estimated to have been deported to Niger.
Repatriation of Algerian Citizens
Officially, Algeria cooperates with EU countries to take back Algerian citizens who are forced to leave European territory, but in practice the process is complex, with Algerian embassies and consulates often claiming to have to work through an avalanche of red tape before being able to issue the necessary paperwork. Between 1994 and 2007, Algeria signed repatriation agreements with six European countries (France in 1994, Germany in 1997, Spain in 2002, the United Kingdom and Italy in 2006, Switzerland in 2007) committing the country to take back deported Algerians or third-country nationals who irregularly entered Europe via Algeria. During her last visit to Algiers in September 2018, the German chancellor Angela Merkel and Algeria’s Prime Minister Ouyahia reassured critics that enforced returns had been conducted smoother than before. While only 57 forced removals from Germany to Algeria were registered in 2015, the number rose to 504 in 2017 and 350 in the first six months of 2018. Meanwhile, in 2021, Spain expelled an Algerian whistleblower who had entered Spain two years earlier to Algeria despite vocal criticism from human rights groups.
Moreover, Algeria introduced biometric identity documents in early 2015, meeting a demand repeatedly made by the EU in order to make it easier to identify people who are obliged to leave the country. In the meantime, Algeria has fully transitioned to biometric passports.
What Is the Role of NGOs?
Even though Algerian human rights groups, NGOs and independent unions are opposing Algeria’s deportation and migration policy, the state’s repressive actions against African migrants and Europe’s restrictive immigration and visa policy, their campaigns have only been able to mobilize a limited number of activists in Algerian society, not least due to the rise of right-wing populist discourses. Even though civil society organizations critical towards the government (see section on Resistance) play an important role in rallying public opposition against the state’s border fortification and deportation policies, they have failed to build a critical mass. Algeria’s press is dominated by pro-government and racist discourses, leaving only few critical media outlets to criticize the regime’s illegal deportation policy.
Meanwhile, the government is wooing civil society actors, seeking their support for its restrictive migration and refugee policy in order to create the impression that, for example, deportations are conducted in line with international standards. To date, however, the Algerian branch of the Red Crescent is the only civil society organization to have accompanied the convoys to Tamanrasset; it confirms that Algerian authorities are treating arrested and deported individuals in line with international law. The IOM office in Algiers has not been systematically involved in deportation operations to Niger and Mali but has observed one convoy from Algiers to Tamanrasset organized by Algerian authorities. The first collective deportation of 166 Nigerien migrants from the south Algerian city of Tamanrasset to Niamey organized by IOM took place in October 2019. Since then, flights organized by IOM have taken place at irregular intervals.
Economic Interests – Who Stands to Benefit?
The major winners of the EU’s border externalization policy in Algeria are the local security apparatus and local companies producing and assembling security equipment such as vehicles and tanks (which are also supplied from abroad). The arms and equipment deliveries also benefit interior authorities, the military and the Ministry of Defence, which use them to upgrade their fleets and equipment, while Algerian officials take part in international trainings. The development of a local manufacturing industry, which was meant to help transfer technology to Algeria, has so far only had little impact and has failed to meet Algeria’s expectations. The country remains reliant on deliveries from Germany and other countries in order to sustain production in those plants – an aspect which can be regarded as a move on behalf of the German government to secure its geopolitical and security policy interests in Algeria. If the German government halts the delivery of spare parts to these facilities, production comes to a standstill.
Alongside foreign arms and equipment suppliers, the companies that have built up joint ventures and local arms and equipment production facilities together with the Algerian state also benefit massively. These include German companies such as Daimler, Rheinmetall and Hensoldt, but also Russian and Italian companies whose local production facilities are still under construction. Meanwhile, there have been allegations of corruption concerning some of the closed arms deals in recent years. Thyssen-Krupp (TKMS) and Algeria have agreed on the delivery of two armed MEKO A-200 frigates – according to reports, however, TKMS was not buying the ammunition directly from European producers but was using a Lebanese intermediary. Since these details were made public, ThyssenKrupp has been facing serious allegations of corruption.
Who Is Losing?
Obviously, the migrants and refugees who are illegally deported by Algerian authorities in actions that constitute systematic violations of international refugee law suffer the most under Algeria’s border control policy. What is more, they are forced into precarious living and working conditions due to inadequate residency and work permit regulations in the country. In addition, right-wing populist propaganda has strongly fueled racially motivated attacks against migrants. Such xenophobic public discourse is a deliberate attempt by the government to create tensions between lower-income sections of the population and immigrants. Due to Europe’s and Algeria’s 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 counted among the losers created by these policies. There, due to the de facto border shut-downs, families are separated, leaving people deprived of job opportunities and incomes.
What Resistance Is There?
Various Algerian civil society actors, including NGOs, youth organizations and unions, are actively opposing the deportations and the repression practiced by governmental agencies against migrants living in Algeria. Through campaigns, educational work and workshops, civil society actors are trying to initiate debates and create awareness among the Algerian youth. Self-organized initiatives by African migrants living in Algeria exist in quite a few cities, but due to Algeria’s restrictive NGO legislation they are pushed into informality and are viewed critically by the local population. However, due to the Algeria-wide protest movement that started in early 2019 and heavy state repression against activists, opposition figures and journalists, Algerian activists and NGOs formerly lobbying for migrant rights gradually abandoned all migration-related activities and are now primarily focused on supporting the local protest movement and fighting government repression.
The most important NGOs to criticize Algeria’s migration, refugee and deportation policies are the youth organization RAJ (Rassemblement Actions Jeunesse), which has now been banned by the authorities due to its active role during the hirak uprising, the offices of the independent Algerian Human Rights League (Ligue Algérienne pour la Défense des Droits de l’Homme, LADDH) in Algiers and Béjaïa, alongside feminist groups in Oran and independent labor unions such as the autonomous federation of trade unions, theConfédération Générale Autonome des Travailleurs en Algérie (CGATA), which fights for the rights of migrant workers and refugees. Meanwhile, along the de facto closed Moroccan-Algerian border (and especially near Oujda and Maghnia), activists and people living in the region have been staging protest actions and minor demonstrations since 2015, calling, among other things, for open borders.
- Analysis of the German-Egyptian security cooperation and Algeria’s role in the EU border regime in the Mediterranean region (RLS)
- Extracts from answers to parliamentary questions relating to externalization of the EU Border (in German)
- EU-Algeria association agreement
- EUTF projects in Algeria