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06 May 2020 – Algeria

A Sahrawi Refugee Camp near Tindouf, (European Commission DG ECHO, Flickr, “La Patience des Sahraouis,”, 12 February 2016,
A Sahrawi Refugee Camp near Tindouf, (European Commission DG ECHO, Flickr, “La Patience des Sahraouis,”, 12 February 2016,

In correspondence with the Global Detention Project (GDP), UNHCR Algeria reports that the Algerian Government “suspended collective expulsions of migrants in irregular situations in Algeria in mid-March due to the Covid-19 crisis. However, it is reported that groups of nationals from Niger continued to be removed to Niger in March and April, although in smaller numbers than before. However, cross-border movement restrictions taken to contain the spread of Covid-19 might currently impact on the possibility for refugees to access the territory and asylum, which must be maintained even as governments take measures to protect public health.”

UNHCR Algeria also told the GDP that “Algeria has not adopted any new asylum policies or practices in response to the Covid-19 crisis. UNHCR office in Algiers receives and registers asylum applications and conducts refugee status determination. Due to the Covid-19 situation, the number of asylum applications received has decreased since March 2020. Reception and appointment for refugees and asylum-seekers in UNHCR office have been temporarily suspended to prevent the virus transmission, and remote pre-registration and interviewing modalities were introduced. Through its Call Centre numbers, Hotline and UNHCR Help website for Algeria (, UNHCR is providing practical information and assistance on a daily basis on procedures and services available to refugees and asylum-seekers during the Covid-19 situation.”

As of 5 May 2020, Algeria had recorded 4,648 Covid-19 cases and a total of 465 deaths related to the disease. The government enacted two Decrees (No. 20-69 and 20-70) on 21 and 24 March, establishing social distancing measures, confinement facilities, movement restrictions, and specific rules on commercial activities. Public transport, flights, trains and taxis have all been suspended. The government has announced that these measures will remain in palce until 14 May.

Refugee camps like the Sahrawi refugee camps, located a few kilometers from Tindouf, are particularly vulnerable to the spread of Covid-19. Due to the lack of medical staff and health care material, the spread of Covid-19 within these camps could cause a catastrophe. A Saharawi doctor, Abdala Banani Saaid, stated that the health personnel has just 600 pairs of gloves and 2000 masks for a population of between 180,000 and 200,000 people. She added that “no health centre is really ready. Even the national hospital does not have respiratory equipment. Let’s hope we don’t get any case, because we really don’t have anything here.”

UNHCR, UNICEF, WFP and five NGO partners have called attention to the challenges faced by Sahrawi refugees. A plan requiring US$ 15 million has been drawn up by the these organisations outlining measures to: “(1) prevent transmission of Covid-19 among Sahrawi refugees; (2) provide adequate care for patients affected by Covid-19 and to support their families and close contacts; and (3) adapt programmes in health, education, food security, protection, and water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) to mitigate the worst effects of the pandemic.” Agostino Mulas, UNHCR representative in Algeria stated that “as governments across the world are taking extraordinary measures to contain the spread and mitigate the impact of Covid-19, we must not forget vulnerable populations such as the Sahrawi refugees. I would like to express our gratitude to the Algerian Government for its continued support to this refugee population and for including them in all the Covid-19 national response strategies … I humbly call on all donors, whether governments, foundations or individuals, to support these efforts and help the humanitarian community working in the Tindouf camps to face this unprecedented crisis.”

On 1 April 2020, the Algerian President, Abdelmadjid Tebboune, ordered the release of 5,037 prisoners. Prisoners on remand and those with a sentence of less than 18 months were released while those convicted of terrorism, espionnage, murder or other violent crimes will remain in prison. In the Koléa prison, a prisoner died from Covid-19 on 9 April 2020. Following the death, the prison was placed in isolation and movements in and out of the prison have been suspended, including prisoners attending their hearings in Court. In the Blida prison, 59 prisoners were released to alleviate overcrowding and avoid the spread of Covid-19.

While the country has taken measures to protect prisoners from Covid-19, the GDP has been unable to find reports indicating that authorities have taken measures to assist migrants in detention.