Last Updated: Monday, 19 February 2018, 14:34 GMT

World Refugee Survey 2009 - Algeria

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 17 June 2009
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, World Refugee Survey 2009 - Algeria, 17 June 2009, available at: [accessed 20 February 2018]
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.

Algeria figures


Algeria hosted around 96,500 refugees and asylum seekers. About 90,000 were from the disputed Western Sahara, who sought shelter from the 1976 conflict between Morocco and the nationalist rebel group, the Polisario Front, over the area's sovereignty; although neither the Polisario nor the Algerian Government would permit their registration. Around 4,000 Palestinian refugees lived in Algeria, generally integrated into urban areas. There were also some 1,400 sub-Saharan asylum seekers in Algiers with no recognition and 1,100 ethnic Touregs from Mali and Niger who arrived during the year.

Summary of 2008 Events

Algeria deported many asylum seekers from sub-Saharan Africa during the year. The Government did not grant refugee status to anyone nor did it accept those the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) recognized under its mandate.

In March and April, the World Food Programme and other international aid agencies found an 18 percent prevalence of global acute malnutrition in the camps and a five percent prevalence of severe acute malnutrition, "a drastic increase compared to the findings in 2005[c] when the prevalence of GAM was 8 percent with 2 percent being severe." There was a 32 percent prevalence of stunting with nine percent severely stunted and 62 percent of children aged 6-59 months suffered from anemia, six percent of them severely, with the highest rates among those 30 months old and younger. Anemia ran 54 percent among non-pregnant women but 66 percent among the pregnant with 15 percent severely so. Nearly half of children under five had diarrhea, of which 30 percent reported bloody diarrhea; more than half reported difficulties breathing.

Law and Policy

Refoulement/Physical Protection

Algeria is party to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, its 1967 Protocol, and the 1969 Convention governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa, all without reservation. The 1989 Constitution (amended 1996) provides that in no case may a "political refugee" with the legal right of asylum be "delivered or extradited." A 1963 Decree establishes the Algerian Office for Refugees and Stateless Persons (BAPRA) in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and calls for an appellate board consisting of representatives of various ministries and UNHCR, but the authorities do not request UNHCR to designate its representative. The 1963 Decree authorizes BAPRA to decide cases and stipulates its recognition of those UNHCR recognizes.

The Government considers all sub-Saharan asylum seekers without visas to be illegal immigrants, even if UNHCR recognizes them as refugees. The number of applicants overwhelmed UNHCR's status determination process and the time between registration and interviews was over a year in most cases and determinations were available only in the capital. The Government did recognize the Sahrawi and all 4,000 Palestinians as refugees, but did not permit UNHCR to conduct a census of the Sahrawi although it considered them to be UNHCR's sole responsibility. UNHCR travel to distant border areas required advance clearance and the agency was unable to monitor interception measures outside the capital.

In June 2008, the Parliament passed Law 08-11, governing the entry, stay, and movement of foreigners. While allowing for stays and appeals of deportations ordered by the interior ministry, it allows governors to order the deportation of any foreigner deemed to have entered or resided in the country illegally with no possibility of appeal. The law also provides for establishment of detention centers for irregular migrants and harsh penalities for those who assist foreigners in entering or remaining in Algeria illegally.

Detention/Access to Courts

Authorities arrest refugees and asylum seekers for illegal entry, movement, and employment. Authorities in Algiers at least release those not charged with common crimes upon the intervention of UNHCR-paid lawyers and sentence them within two weeks.

Polisario authorities maintain their own police, judiciary, and detention facilities and apply their own penal code with the acquiescence of the Government of Algeria. They detain refugees in at least two jails, Hamdi Ba Sheikh for men, about 30 minutes' drive outside of the Polisario's Rabouni headquarters and another for women, and a juvenile detention facility. There is also a detention center that the Polisario refers to as "the Center for Maternity Assistance" for women pregnant out of wedlock. The Polisario acknowledges three to five cases per year and interprets them legally as "adultery," a crime punishable by one to five years imprisonment under its penal code. In some cases, however, women reportedly remain indefinitely until a man agrees to marry them or their family members agree to raise the child.

The Polisario issues refugee identity cards to all Sahrawi over the age of 18. UNHCR issues attestation letters to refugees and asylum seekers who approach the agency in the capital but the agency has little presence elsewhere. The letters state that the persons are refugees or "of concern" to the agency. Occasionally police contact UNHCR to verify certificates and release the bearers upon confirmation. Under the law, refugees are eligible for three-year residence cards, but the Government does not recognize any other than the Sahrawi or the Palestinians. Other refugees and asylum seekers do not have access to courts and avoided them for fear of arrest.

Many black Sahrawi in the camps are slaves of Arab Sahrawi masters, whose names the slaves take. Polisario judges do not allow slave women to marry without permission of the male heads of the families that own them. In 2007, the Polisario's National Saharan Council ratified a new law on civil status law that modified some deficiencies in kinship and marriage cases.

Freedom of Movement and Residence

The Government allows the Polisario to control the movements of some 90,000 refugees from the Western Sahara in four isolated camps outside the Tindouf military zone near the Moroccan border. The geographical area, known as "The Devil's Garden," is part of the Hammada, a vast plain of the Sahara subject to summer temperatures over 50°C, frequent sand storms, and little or no vegetation.

Refugees need permits from the Chief of Daira (districts within camps) to move from one daira to another within a camp or from camp to camp or to travel to the surrounding countryside, to Tindouf, or to Mauritania. The Chiefs generally issue them. Some 3,500 Sahrawi live in Tindouf with Algerian passports, some of them married to Algerians. The Polisario forbids permanent return to the Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara, however. Even so, a number manage to reach the territory through Mauritania. To travel to Algiers, refugees need passports from the Polisario, which restricts their issuance according to criteria it does not disclose, and, except for the few with Algerian passports, permission from Algerian authorities. According to Human Rights Watch, Sahrawis must apply to the Algerian Government through the Polisario and have an "approved" reason, such as enrolment in school or professional training but not to seek employment.

The Polisario and/or Algerian military maintain checkpoints at roadways leading to, from, and in between the camps and Algerian police operate checkpoints throughout the country. The UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara facilitates flights by refugees to visit family members in the Moroccan-controlled Western Sahara. The Polisario screens applicants and, if an entire family applies, requires at least one member to remain behind. In meetings, Polisario representatives defend the policy as necessary to ensure that participants return to the camps. On some six occasions, however, persons have not returned anyway, including one woman with two children in January. In some of these cases, after international intervention, the Polisario permitted the family members left to join their relatives but in others, they did not.

The Polisario also allows some refugees to leave for education in Algeria and elsewhere and to tend livestock in the areas of the Western Sahara it controls and Mauritania. An unknown number reportedly hold Mauritanian passports. The Algerian Government also issues passports to those the Polisario permitted to travel abroad but not to other refugees.

Right to Earn a Livelihood

Algerian law severely restricts the rights of foreigners to work and makes negligible exception for non-Palestinian refugees. Other refugees have no more rights than foreigners generally. The 1981 Employment of Foreign Workers Law and the 1983 Order of the Ministry of Labor allows only single-employer work permits and then only for jobs for which no nationals, even those residing abroad, are qualified. Employers have to file justifications consistent with the opinions of workers' representatives. Permits are valid for no more than two years and renewal requires repetition of the entire procedure. Employees cannot change employers until they complete their contracts and then only in exceptional circumstances after consultation with the previous employer. Violators are subject to fines and/or imprisonment from ten days to a month.

The 1990 Labor Law reiterates the same national labor protection requirements, without exception for refugees. A 2005 Decree establishes regional labor inspection offices to enforce laws regulating the employment of foreigners and to take action "against all forms of illegal work." Palestinian refugees have access to the labor market under a special policy.

Skilled refugees and asylum seekers engage in some self-employment but risk arrest and detention for it and enjoy no social security or labor protections. Sahrawi refugees can work in informal businesses in the remote southwest garrison town of Tindouf, near the camps, but need permits to work in Algiers and elsewhere and are were no reports that any receive them.

Although the Constitution provides that "Any foreigner being legally on the national territory enjoys the protection of his person and his properties by the law," refugees can own only moveable property. Sahrawi refugees can own goats and sheep. Legitimate commerce and smuggling cigarettes, medicine, and humanitarian aid is a major source of revenue in the camps.

Public Relief and Education

The international community spends nearly $50 million per year on the camps. The Government supplies health services, transportation, housing, and most of the refugees' heating and cooking fuel. Except for the "27 February" settlement and the Polisario's administrative centre in Rabouni, there is no electricity in the camps.

The law requires all humanitarian aid to go through Algerian Red Crescent Society, which works with its Polisario partner, the Sahrawi Red Crescent Society. The Government's refusal to allow a registration census prevents UNHCR from profiling the population for humanitarian and protection needs or monitoring aid distribution. A Joint UNHCR/WFP Assessment Mission in 2007 recommended a more transparent and accountable distribution system.

The Palestinian refugees had integrated and did not have contact with UNHCR.

There are primary schools in the Tindouf camps for Sahrawi children. Some families keeping slave children as domestic servants in the camp reportedly do not allow them to attend school. Algeria does not allow sub-Saharan refugees the residency permits necessary to attend classes. UNHCR, however, pays tuition for some to attend private schools.

The national poverty reduction strategy, including the Common Country Assessment and the UN's joint plan of action with the Government for 2007-2011, does not include refugees.

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