What’s going on with Algeria’s migrant problem?

What’s going on with Algeria’s migrant problem?
Mark Seddon

The European Union is preparing to go to the pollson June 6th-9th. A general election has been called in the United Kingdom for 4th July. One of the key and most vexatious issues underpinning these elections and much of the media reporting of them, is migration; legal and illegal. So called ‘populist’ parties of the Right are expected to gather strong support especially in those areas experiencing high levels of net migration. In Britain, which this week reported a net immigration of over half a million people over the past year, the focus is on deportations, long planned, to a second country Rwanda. This is despite the fact that the numbers involved would be incredibly small and the cost exorbitant.

But then EU member states have been very proactive in throwing money at the source of the migration problem, as opposed to the causes of the problem; namely poverty, environmental and climate causes;coups and brutal civil wars. A ring of fire effectively burns through much of the Sahel region and Sudan. The result; an ever-increasing flow of desperate people, seeing the promised European lands on their cell phones and heading there. 

The EU is determined to stop them and wants to buy the support of others to do it for them. European funds have been used to train personnel and buy equipment for units across the Maghreb implicated in desert dumps and human rights abuses. Migrants have been pushed back into the most inhospitable parts of North Africa, often with no food or water, facing kidnapping, extortion, sale as human slaves, torture, sexual violence and, in the worst instances, death. Last year, the EU offered an extra 105 million euros to Tunisia last year and signing a deal in February with Mauritania to provide an additional 210 million euros to stop migrants in their tracks and send them back to where they had come from. No country emerges with clean hands, as a year-long investigation by the Washington Post revealed that migrants have suffered from the aggressive actions of governments from across the region. According to Marie-Laure Basilien-Gainche, a human rights and legal expert at France’s Jean Moulin Lyon 3 University “The fact is European states do not want to be the ones to have dirty hands. They do not want to be considered responsible for the violation of human rights. So, they are subcontracting these violations to third states. But I think, really, according to international law, they are responsible.” 

But even with the direct EU support, other countries who have more recently avoided some of the spotlight are also engaged in the push-back, most notably Algeria. In 2013, 92 sub-Saharan migrants were found dead in the desert between Algeria and Niger. Ten years later, the number of migrants subject to human rights violations by Algeria has only increased. From March to April 2023, there were more than 7,000 expulsions of migrants from Algeria to Niger. Countries across the Maghreb, including Algeria, could avoid taking the blame for carrying out actions that have been funded by the European Union, by simply stopping them. That might begin to concentrate the minds of European legislators on tackling the causes of mass migration.  

*Mark Seddon is a former Speechwriter to UN Secretary-General Ban ki moon & former Adviser to the Office of the President of the UN General Assembly

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