|Responding to the Global Detention Project’s Covid-19 survey, a non-governmental actor in Algeria reported that expulsions of undocumented people have been halted since 21 March 2020, though information from news sources appears to contradict this claim. The source, who asked to remain anonymous but whose identity was verified by the GDP, said that they did not have any information regarding whether a moratorium on new immigration detention orders had been put in place or if the country had adopted new immigration and/or asylum policies. The source also stated that they were not aware if immigration detainees were being tested for Covid-19 or whether detainees had been released at all.
On 5 May, however, reports indicated that between mid-March and mid-April, hundreds of migrants were forcibly expelled from Algeria and now find themselves stranded in transit centres across Niger in harsh conditions in makeshift quarantine camps in Agadez.
As previously reported (see 6 May update on this platform), refugee camps such as the Sahrawi camps are particularly vulnerable to the spread of Covid-19. Reports indicate that as of 8 May, more than 170,000 people were living in the Sahrawi refugee camps, where healthcare centres have no ventilators and are not equipped to deal with the consequences of a Covid-19 spread. In the Tindouf province, where the camps are located, nine cases of Covid-19 have been confirmed. Oxfam’s Country Director in Algeria, Haissam Minkara said: “The new confirmed cases are very close to the camps, which means the risk of an outbreak is now imminent and would be disastrous for the refugee population - one that has already suffered four decades of conflict.”
Because refugees in the camps are living in close quarters and many of them suffer from health conditions, including acute malnutrition, diabetes, and anemia, an outbreak would be devastating. Oxfam reported that within the camps, health centres are already experiencing a shortage of beds, medical supplies, protective equipment for staff, and hygiene products. In addition, all non-essential businesses have been closed in the camps and travel between the five camps has been restricted by Algerian authorities. Oxfam stated that although suspending humanitarian aid activities is essential for preventing an outbreak, this also complicates life for people already on the brink. As camps are geographically and economically isolated, and with most economic activities in the camps halted, refugees’ ability to purchase food and hygiene items is increasingly limited.
Oxfam and its partners report that they are providing protective equipment and hygiene items to meet the needs of the 33 health facilities and clinics in the camps in addition to manufacturing and installing handwashing units throughout the camps. Oxfam is appealing to the international community to support funding needed to help respond to the crisis. Oxfam’s country director stated: “The Sahrawi refugee crisis has been overlooked for four decades and now, more than ever, the stakes couldn’t be higher for those already left behind by the international community. We are mobilising resources, but it will not be enough. Oxfam is looking to the international community for support to strengthen our capacity to deal with an outbreak.”
On 18 April, the country has also opened sewing workshops in 30 of its penitentiaries with the aim of producing 200,000 masks. An extension of this initiative is being planned, by which prisoners would also produce protective suits for medical personnel and disinfection cabins.||2020|
|Unnamed source in Algeria, Global Detention Project Covid-19 Survey, 27 May 2020.|
|J. Burke, “Coronavirus Border Closures Strand Tens of Thousands of People Across Africa,” The Guardian, 5 May 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/may/05/coronavirus-border-closures-strand-tens-of-thousands-of-people-across-africa|
|Oxfam, “Covid-19: New Cases Confirmed Near Sahrawi Camps, 173,000 Refugees at Risk,” 8 May 2020, https://reliefweb.int/report/algeria/covid-19-new-cases-confirmed-near-sahrawi-camps-173000-refugees-risk$|
|C. Lyes, “Algérie: Les Prisonniers Algériens Vont Produire 200,000 Masques Anti-Coronavirus,” DzairDaily, 18 April 2020, https://www.dzairdaily.com/coronavirus-algerie-prisonnier-confection-200000-masque-covid19-prison/|
|A Queue of People in Assamaka on the Niger/Algeria Border, (IOM, "Coronavirus border closures strand tens of thousands of people across Africa," The Guardian, 5 May 2020,
|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 (https://help.unhcr.org/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.||2020|
|Gide Loyrette Nouel, “Covid-19: Mesures Générales Relatives à la Lutte contre la Propagation du Covid-19 en Algérie,” 7 April 2020, www.gide.com/fr/actualites/covid-19-mesures-generales-relatives-a-la-lutte-contre-la-propagation-du-covid-19-en|
|Middle East Monitor, “Algeria Extends Coronavirus Lockdown to April 29,” 18 April 2020, https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20200418-algeria-extends-coronavirus-lockdown-to-april-29/|
|F.B., “Covid-19: en Algérie, les Mesures de Confinement Prolongées au 14 Mai,” Afrik.com, 28 April 2020, https://www.afrik.com/covid-19-en-algerie-les-mesures-de-confinement-prolongees-au-14-mai|
|UNHCR Algeria (Barbara Colzi), Correspondence with Michael Flynn (Global Detention Project), 5 May 2020, https://www.globaldetentionproject.org/|
|Y. Martin-Fradejas & Euronews, “#StayinYourTent: Covid-19 Protective Measures Reach Sahara Desert,” 10 April 2020, https://www.euronews.com/2020/04/10/stayinyourtent-covid-19-protective-measures-reach-sahara-desert|
|World Food Programme, “UN Humanitarian Agencies Appeal for US $ 15 Million for Joint Covid-19 Response for Sahrawi Refugees in Algeria,” 23 April 2020, https://www.wfp.org/news/un-humanitarian-agencies-appeal-us-15-million-joint-covid-19-response-sahrawi-refugees-algeria|
|UNHCR, et. al, “Refugees from Western Sahara Tindouf, Algeria: Covid-19 Prevention and Response” 19 April 2020, https://docs.wfp.org/api/documents/WFP-0000114661/download/|
|L. Redouane, “Algérie: Tebboune Décrète la Grâce pour 5037 Prisonniers,” Dzair Daily, 1 April 2020, https://www.dzairdaily.com/algerie-abdelmadjid-tebboune-decrete-la-grace-pour-5037-prisonniers/|
|A. Chérif, “Un Détenu Décède du Coronavirus,” Le Soir d’Algérie, 9 April 2020, https://www.lesoirdalgerie.com/actualites/un-detenu-decede-du-coronavirus-41275|
|A Sahrawi Refugee Camp near Tindouf, (European Commission DG ECHO, Flickr, “La Patience des Sahraouis,” Asile.ch, 12 February 2016, https://asile.ch/2016/02/12/rtn-la-patience-des-sahraouis/)|
|With the Covid-19 crisis provoking a state of “panic” across Algeria, the country has announced a "plan d’urgence." Authorities have continued their efforts to block unauthorised migration from sub-Saharan countries, including detaining "migrants clandestins" and arresting alleged traffickers. However, simultaneously, the Ministry of Justice announced that it was temporarily suspending court functions. In addition, all visits to prisons have been suspended and lawyers may only see their clients through a glass separation. The GDP has been unable to find any reports indicating that authorities have taken measures to assist migrants and asylum seekers, including those in detention.||2020|
|Algerie Presse Service, “Ghardaïa: démantèlement d’un réseau de déplacement de migrants clandestins du Sud vers le Nord,” 25 March 2020, http://www.aps.dz/regions/103401-ghardaia-demantelement-d-un-reseau-de-deplacement-de-migrants-clandestins-du-sud-vers-le-nord|
|L. Redouane, “Coronavirus en Algérie: Les parloirs et visites en prison suspendus”, 17 March 2020, https://www.dzairdaily.com/coronavirus-algerie-visite-carcerale-parloir-prison-covid-19/|
|Global Detention Project, Immigration Detention in Algeria, https://www.globaldetentionproject.org/countries/africa/algeria|
|L’OBS, Face au coronavirus, l’Algérie ‘est en état de panique’”, 28 March 2020, https://www.nouvelobs.com/coronavirus-de-wuhan/20200328.OBS26736/face-au-coronavirus-l-algerie-est-en-etat-de-panique.html|
|Bilall Bensalem, "Disinfecting the streets in Algeria," 28 March 2020, (https://www.nouvelobs.com/coronavirus-de-wuhan/20200328.OBS26736/face-au-coronavirus-l-algerie-est-en-etat-de-panique.html)|