Algeria barred all Syrians from entering the country via its southern border with Mali and Niger to keep out members of defeated rebel groups from Syria deemed to pose a security risk, a senior official said.
Hassen Kacimi, official in charge of migrant policy at the interior ministry, told Reuters Syrians seeking refuge in Algeria in this way were suspected to be Islamist militants and were not welcome.
Algeria went through years of devastating civil war with hardcore jihadist groups in the 1990s. While violence is now diminished, sporadic attacks continue in isolated areas.
“We hosted 50,000 Syrians in the past few years for humanitarian reasons,” Kacimi said, alluding to refugees from Syria’s civil war, “but cannot accept members of armed groups fleeing from Syria when it comes to our security.”
He said around 100 reached the southern border with the help of local armed escorts in recent weeks but were intercepted and expelled shortly after they slipped into Algeria.
Kacimi said these Syrians transited Turkey, Jordan, Egypt, Sudan and Niger or Mali using fake Sudanese passports.
“Definitely this is a criminal network and we must be vigilant not to allow them into Algeria,” he said.
Algeria maintained diplomatic relations with Syria throughout its own civil war, in which President Bashar al-Assad largely defeated rebels and jihadists trying to topple him. Syrians do not need visas to enter Algeria.
Algeria’s south and south-east are largely empty desert regions but it beefed up security there after neighbouring Libya and northern Mali and Niger fell into the hands of militant and rebel factions.
Since its 1990s civil war, Algeria has become an important US ally against Islamist militants active in the Sahel region.