Last Updated: Friday, 28 October 2016, 16:16 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2000 - Algeria

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 1 June 2000
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2000 - Algeria , 1 June 2000, available at: [accessed 28 October 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.


Hundreds of thousands of Algerians have fled their country's domestic political violence during the past seven years, but the numbers remain uncounted and unknown.

Tens of thousands of Algerians have sought asylum in Europe, including 8,000 new asylum applications in 1999. Hundreds of thousands more Algerians, according to some estimates, have fled to Europe without filing asylum claims.

Some 100,000 to 200,000 Algerians were believed to be internally displaced at the end of 1999, but more precise estimates of their numbers were virtually impossible because the international community had no access to the country's conflict zone.

Algeria hosted approximately 85,000 refugees at the end of 1999, including some 80,000 from Western Sahara, and nearly 4,000 Palestinians.

Pre-1999 Violence

A brutal insurgency since 1992 has killed an estimated 100,000 or more Algerians, many of them civilians.

The violence began when the nation's military canceled national elections that the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), a political coalition, was poised to win in 1992. The Islamic Salvation Army, an armed group affiliated with FIS, responded by launching an armed campaign. Other indigenous Islamic rebel groups have joined in the violence.

Violence sharply escalated in the mid-1990s as massacres intensified in the so-called "triangle of death" located south of the capital, Algiers. Insurgents typically slit the throats of their victims. Many victims were residents of remote villages. Government counterinsurgency tactics also caused many deaths, according to analysts.

The Algerian government routinely has blocked foreigners from investigating the violence. An exception occurred in 1998, when Algerian officials briefly permitted a UN delegation to investigate massacre sites. The UN delegation reported that government and anti-government forces were guilty of abuses but concluded that insurgents had committed the worst atrocities.

The UN Human Rights Commission declared in 1998 that Algeria was a "widespread human rights crisis."

Violence in 1999

The country's new president, elected in April, pledged to promote "national reconciliation" and offered amnesty to insurgents who would surrender. The amnesty did not apply, however, to crimes of murder and rape.

Some 98 percent of voters endorsed the amnesty proposal in a September national referendum, according to voting results announced by the government. Some insurgents reportedly surrendered under the amnesty, but some 2,000 to 7,000 combatants remained under arms, according to various estimates.

Bloodshed continued despite the steps toward peace. As many as 3,000 civilians and combatants were killed during the year, according to some sources. Algeria's president acknowledged that 100,000 persons have died in the seven years of upheaval, three times more than the government's previous public estimates.

Some 100 civilians were killed in the two weeks preceding the referendum, and about 500 people were slain in the four months after the government offered an amnesty. Some 3,000 to 4,000 persons detained by government security forces have disappeared, according to human rights organizations. Insurgents also committed kidnappings and disappearances.

The full extent of population displacement remained unclear during 1999 because the government restricted access to conflict areas. Many families uprooted from small villages and farms have fled to the capital, where some reportedly have settled into schools and mosques. Thousands lived in tents and cargo containers along the capital's busy streets. Others resided in shanty neighborhoods that have sprung up in recent years.

Refugees from Western Sahara

Ethnic Sahrawi refugees, many of whom fled to Algeria in the mid-1970s because of civil war in Western Sahara, remained at four large camps in a harsh, remote corner of western Algeria during 1999.

The year began with guarded optimism that the refugees might soon repatriate to Western Sahara as part of a negotiated political settlement. The refugees' repatriation is regarded as a prerequisite for holding a national referendum in Western Sahara to determine whether the territory will become an independent nation or become permanently part of Morocco. Virtually all Sahrawi refugees in Algeria were believed to favor independence for Western Sahara.

The referendum in Western Sahara – originally scheduled to take place in 1992 – was delayed yet again because of ongoing political disagreements over voter eligibility. Virtually no Sahrawi refugees repatriated during the year.

Most of the estimated 80,000 refugees continued to live in four designated camps located in a barren, flat desert near the Algerian town of Tindouf, some 1,000 miles (about 1,500 km) from the Algerian capital.

"The emergency conditions endured in over 20 years of temporary the middle of the Sahara desert have left [their] mark on the nutritional and health status of the refugee population," the UN World Food Program (WFP) reported in April. The refugees had poor drinking water, irregular food supplies, and "insufficient medical and sanitary services," a 1999 assessment by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and WFP concluded.

Aid workers reported that more than 30 percent of the children ages 5 to 12 were malnourished, more than 70 percent of children under age 5 suffered anemia, and 11,000 refugee women were anemic. Many children reportedly have developed hearing problems after years of living amid the wind and sand of the open desert.

The arid landscape and economic isolation of the camps were "disabling factors for [the] refugees" and stymied their efforts to become self-sufficient, WFP reported. Households engaged in small vegetable gardening. Some families owned small herds of sheep, goats, and camels.

UNHCR and WFP, working with the local Algerian Red Cross, continued efforts to address nutritional deficiencies. WFP has provided $47 million of food aid to the refugee population since 1986. A well-organized school system in the camps has educated some 90 percent of the refugees.

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