Last Updated: Tuesday, 21 November 2017, 09:30 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2003 - Algeria

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 1 June 2003
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2003 - Algeria , 1 June 2003, available at: [accessed 21 November 2017]
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.

An estimated 100,000 to 200,000 people remained internally displaced in Algeria at the end of 2002. About 10,000 Algerians sought asylum in industrialized countries during the year, joining tens of thousands of Algerians who have sought refuge abroad during the past ten years.

Hundreds of thousands more Algerians have reportedly fled to Europe without filing asylum claims during the past decade.

Algeria hosted approximately 85,000 refugees at the end of 2002, including some 80,000 from Western Sahara, and nearly 5,000 Palestinians.

Political Violence

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

The Algerian army alleged in 2002 that the decade of violence has killed 50,000 – far fewer than a previous government estimate.

Islamic extremists launched the insurgency after the Algerian military cancelled democratic elections to prevent an electoral victory by an Islamic political coalition.

Violence peaked 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. The government's ruthless counterinsurgency tactics added to the massive death toll.

Bloodshed continued during 2002, as insurgent attacks on rural villages and government counterinsurgency measures killed an estimated 1,000 to 1,500 people. Government officials claimed that Algeria's army had virtually defeated insurgent forces and alleged that fewer than 1,000 armed rebels remained. The government continued to offer amnesty to insurgents who relinquished their weapons.

Displaced Algerians

As in previous years, Algerian authorities barred international human rights and humanitarian agencies from conducting on-the-ground assessments of the displacement, making information incomplete and accurate estimates of numbers virtually impossible.

Thousands of families uprooted by the decade of violence have fled to urban areas, where they live with friends and relatives and in public buildings, makeshift shelters, and shantytowns. Up to 30,000 displaced persons continued to seek shelter in the town of Tiaret, 150 miles (190 km) southwest of the capital, Algiers.

Approximately 30,000 uprooted people continued to congregate near the town of Saida, 210 miles (330 km) southwest of Algiers, according to a report by the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC).

Displaced populations complained about government inaction toward their plight, according to reports that trickled out of Algeria during 2002 despite government restrictions on information. Many uprooted people in rural areas lacked clean drinking water and health care, and authorities in some areas destroyed shantytowns sheltering displaced families, NRC reported.

Refugees from Western Sahara

Ethnic Sahrawi refugees continued to live at four camps in a harsh, remote corner of western Algeria during 2002. Most had fled civil war in Western Sahara in the mid-1970s.

Negotiations to resolve the dispute in Western Sahara remained stalemated during 2002, forcing the refugees to remain in the Tindouf area of Algeria. Virtually no Sahrawi refugees have repatriated during the past two decades.

Residents of the four camps – Smara, Laayoune, Asousserd, and Dakhla – coped with occasional food shortages during 2002 caused by donor countries' inadequate food and financial contributions to the World Food Program (WFP).

WFP requested $30 million over a two-year period to feed Sahrawi refugees, but had received less than $3 million by the end of 2002. Some donors privately urged improved monitoring of food distributions to ensure that political and military leaders among the refugee population were not diverting aid.

While budget constraints slowed repairs on local wells, relief workers regularly used tanker trucks to deliver drinking water to the camps. Refugees reportedly received about half of the minimum international humanitarian standard for water in refugee camps. The brackish quality of water in the desert camps also remained a concern.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) attempted to stimulate international interest in the difficulties facing Sahrawi refugees by hosting a special visit to the camps in April by humanitarian representatives of major donor countries, including the United States. European countries pledged more than $12 million in aid over 15 months.

Algeria's president also conducted a tour of the camps for the first time.

Despite budget shortfalls, UNHCR sought to improve its vocational training and counseling programs for refugee women, operated a nursing school, and offered polio vaccinations. UNHCR conducted a workshop for Algerian government officials and refugee leaders on refugee law and protection.

As in previous years, the actual number of Sahrawi refugees remained a matter of debate. Algerian authorities and refugee leaders continued to claim that 165,000 refugees lived in the Tindouf-area camps, but for political reasons they have prevented UNHCR from conducting a census to verify the number. Refugee leaders associated with the Western Sahara independence movement have long operated the camp in a regimented fashion.

The U.S. Committee for Refugees estimated that the actual number of Sahrawi refugees in Algeria was about half of the officially reported number.

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