The United Nations fears for the safety of Syrians barred from entering Algeria from the south, saying some turned back were refugees stranded in the desert and not suspected militants as Algiers maintains.
The official overseeing migrant policy at Algeria’s interior ministry said Syrians arriving overland from the south recently were members of defeated militant groups from Syria’s civil war who posed a security threat.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees criticised the decision, saying some of the Syrians mentioned by the Algerian official were registered refugees.
“They fled conflict and persecution or claim to seek international protection in Algeria,” a UNHCR statement said. “According to information available to UNHCR, 20 individuals from this group currently remain stranded in the desert, three kilometres from the Guezzam border post where they are exposed to the elements. The other 100 individuals taken to the border are unaccounted for,” the statement said.
Citing an “urgent humanitarian imperative”, UNHCR appealed to Algerian authorities for access to Syrians affected by the ban to identify those in need of international protection and ensure their safety.
Hassen Kacimi, the interior ministry official, said around 100 Syrians reached the southern border with the help of local armed escorts in recent weeks. They were intercepted and expelled shortly after they slipped into Algeria.
The Syrians transited Turkey, Jordan, Egypt, Sudan and Niger or Mali using fake Sudanese passports.
Algeria has taken in around 50,000 Syrians on humanitarian grounds in recent years, Kacimi added.
Algeria went through years of devastating civil war with Islamist militant groups in the 1990s. While violence is now diminished, sporadic attacks continue in isolated areas.
In Algeria’s south and south-east, largely desolate areas with few inhabitants, government beefed up security after neighbouring Libya and northern Mali and Niger descended into lawlessness.