Algeria handles refugee influx
By Walid Ramzy for Magharebia in Algiers – 12/09/12
Algerian and foreign experts last week called for creating a special commission to protect the rights of refugees fleeing conflicts in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Lack of legal protection makes displaced women and children vulnerable to exploitation and abuse, participants concluded on Thursday (September 6th) in Oran.
"The increasing flow of immigrants towards Algeria and their settlement in a number of areas across the country for a long period of time confirm that Algeria is no longer a transit country for immigrants," said Abdelwahab Merdjana, the Secretary-General of the National Consultative Committee for Promotion and Protection of Human Rights (CNCPPDH).
Improved social and economic conditions, "especially peace and political stability, are reasons encouraging immigrants to resort to Algeria, especially in view of crises and tensions in Africa and Arab world", added Merdjana, whose group organised the event.
A number of legal specialists attended the workshop, including representatives of the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), the Italian Council for Refugees (CIR) and the Union of Italian Jurists for Human Rights (UFTDU).
Amal Amir, in charge of the UNHCR office in Algeria, described the conditions of underage immigrants in Algeria, the type of care provided for their social and humanitarian conditions, and efforts to integrate them, especially access to healthcare and education.
The increasing number of children refugees is due to human trafficking crimes which require the consolidation of systems in order to deter this phenomenon, argued UFTDU representative Alice Sironi. Minors need social and psychological care, she added.
In addition, refugees should have access to education, vocational training and work upon reaching the legal age, participants emphasised.
Experts called for placing underage immigrants who are unaccompanied by parents at secure and appropriate centres and deporting them to their original countries only after making sure that their legal guardians are present. This would be done in co-ordination with their countries' consular services.
The workshop featured presentations "Minors as Victims of Violence, Persecution and Human Trafficking" and "International Legal Systems Governing the Rights of Underage Immigrants".
Algeria reiterated its rejection of a European proposal to set up centres for sheltering refugees or detaining African immigrants. Presidential advisor Kamel Rezzag-Bara said that the Algerian position is based on solidarity with immigrants on its soil away from the model which the European Union and non-governmental organisations are trying to enforce on the ground.
He added that the results of war and conflicts in neighbouring countries, especially northern Mali, and the massive exodus from areas controlled by al-Qaeda-affiliated groups towards Algerian soil represent a new development that must be dealt with.
Meanwhile, CIR Director Christopher Hein called for establishing "temporary shelter centres" in southern Algeria for African immigrants pending deportation to their countries. Algeria rejected the request.
Hein stressed the need for harmonising the legislations of Maghreb and Sahel countries with international agreements and recommendations, noting that the influx of refugees and immigrants towards Algeria requires a careful consideration and regional co-operation.
Early this year, Algeria halted the repatriation of illegal immigrants to Mali because of unrest in that country. The Algerian interior ministry also took measures to counter the waves of clandestine immigration in the south, including the creation of a database containing information on identity and fingerprints of every illegal immigrant arrested in Algeria.
This is in addition to forming police units specialised in clandestine immigration with headquarters in border provinces and allocating a budget to pay for deportation.
In this first six months of this year, security services arrested 2,800 African migrants in eight southern provinces. Ninety per cent of detainees were between 16 and 25 years old.
Algeria refuted allegations of mistreatment of deported immigrants. In an official report by the foreign ministry, it said that detainees in Tamanrasset were placed in special reception centres for a week during which they receive three meals a day and medical care before being deported to neighbouring countries in the south.
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