The European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE) is increasingly concerned about the situation of Algerian refugees and exiles in European countries. The extremely low recognition rate under the Geneva Convention (only 1% in France in 1994, for example) is despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of Algerian asylum seekers are undoubtedly in need of protection, even if many of them may not wish to apply formally for refugee status. This is the result of a very restrictive and erroneous interpretation of the Convention which takes into account solely persecution carried out by the state or encouraged or tolerated by it. This jurisprudence is in clear contradiction to the recommendations of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Of further cause for concern is the absence in most European countries of any alternative status allowing the Algerians seeking refuge in Europe to stay in decent living conditions as long as they cannot return in safety to their country. This situation leads ECRE to urge European governments to take appropriate measures to ensure the protection of those Algerians who flee the terror and violence prevailing in their country and who seek refuge on our territory.

ECRE urges European governments to follow the recommendations concerning "agents of persecution", as expressed in Paragraph 65 of UNHCR's Handbook on Procedures and Criteria for Determining Refugee Status:

"Persecution is normally related to action by the authorities of a country. It may also emanate from sections of the population that do not respect the standards established by the laws of the country concerned... Where serious discriminatory or other offensive acts are committed by the local populace, they can be considered as persecution if they are knowingly tolerated by the authorities or if the authorities refuse, or prove unable to offer effective protection" [emphasis added].

This position has been recently confirmed by UNHCR in their Information Note on Article 1 of the 1951 Convention (March 1995), addressed to the Member States of the European Union:

"...persecution may also emanate from entities for which no link with the State can be established and which the state is unable to control. The essential issue in establishing the basis and justification for the extension of international protection is the fact of an absence of national protection against persecution... Persecution that does not involve State complicity is still, nonetheless, persecution..."

In UNHCR's Guidelines relating to the Eligibility of Algerian Asylum-seekers published in January 1995, UNHCR added to this previous statement:

"Hence, asylum seekers who credibly claim to be threatened by militant Islamic groups should normally qualify for refugee status".

As a result of present practices of European governments, growing numbers of refugees in genuine need of protection are thrown into illegality and left in an unbearable situation without any kind of legal or social protection. The deterrent effect of this jurisprudence leads also to large numbers of refugees entering and staying illegally in European countries without attempting to apply formally for asylum.

ECRE therefore strongly recommends to European governments:

1.      To apply the UNHCR recommendations in the process of determining refugee status.

2.      To adopt a flexible visa policy which allows Algerians in danger to find initial refuge in our countries.

3.      To suspend any removal measure to Algeria as long as the situation prevailing in the country does not allow return in safety and dignity, in accordance with both Article 33 of the Geneva Convention and Article 3 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.

4.      To grant to those Algerians who do not wish to apply for refugee status under the Geneva Convention a temporary resident status including the right to work and to study.


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