Geneva - The Algerian authorities are responsible for protecting Palestinian asylum seekers arriving in Algeria from the Gaza Strip in early October, this year, says the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor.
The Algerian authorities have since detained these Palestinians in an asylum center in Tamanrasset Province, southern Algeria, reportedly intending to deport them back to Gaza via Egypt, a move that violates their rights as asylum seekers and could subject them to serious violations on their way back.
These refugees, estimated to number 53, including several children, arrived in Algeria illegally after they left the Gaza Strip in an attempt to escape an extensive Israeli blockade and frequent military operations that have devastated the coastal enclave.
They left through Egypt’s Rafah Crossing and arrived in Mauritania to be smuggled to the Sahara of Mali in a very dangerous journey that lasted about seven days until they reached the Algerian borders on October 1st.
One of the refugees who refused to reveal his identity said: “We first left Gaza for Egypt, and then went to Mauritania, which did not require a visa for Palestinians to enter its territories. After that we moved to the Sahara of Mali where we started our journey. On our way, we were robbed of everything we had by bandits that we had to eat dead animals’ meat to stay alive.”
The Algerian authorities had taken the fingerprints of these asylum seekers and brought them to trial for illegally entering the country. They were sentenced to three months' suspended imprisonment. However, the authorities have since detained them in an asylum camp and prevented them from moving freely. Recently, they were informed of the authorities’ intention to deport them to Gaza via Egypt.
“We are now incarcerated in caravans in a shelter surrounded by barbed wire and walls,” said the same refugee, adding that: “In the morning, we’re given milk. For lunch and dinner together, we’re brought pasta. The guards do not let us go out to buy anything. We wanted to buy something from outside but the guards are the only ones allowed to buy for us, and they do so at double prices.”
The refugee confirmed that he and other asylum-seekers were on hunger strike to protest their continued detention by the Algerian authorities and their intention to deport them. Some of the detainees were sick, and state security officials told them they would leave within 10 days. However, that never happened.
These asylum seekers fear that their deportation to Egypt could expose them to torture and humiliation, not to mention that they would lose hope of leaving the Gaza Strip through the Egyptian-controlled Rafah crossing another time.
The principle of non-refoulement of refugees is a customary principle of international law, which states that refugees should not be expelled in any way to the borders of countries in which their lives and freedom are threatened, said Sarah Pritchett, Euro-Med’s spokeswoman.
The Algerian authorities treat these asylum seekers in a collective manner, without examining their cases individually to see whether they are entitled to asylum, in violation of the standards set forth in international human rights law, added Pritchett.
It is true that these refugees entered Algeria illegally, but the court decided to release them, and the Algerian authorities must abide by the court’s order, said Pritchett.
The Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor calls on the Algerian authorities to ensure that Palestinian refugees are not forcibly returned to the Gaza Strip and to examine their requests individually, stressing that despite the cessation of war in Gaza, the stakes of a new Israeli attack are high.
Euro-Med Monitor also calls on the Algerian authorities to stop the detention of asylum seekers and secure humanitarian conditions for them until their asylum applications are reviewed or to let them seek other legal ways under the Algerian law, as decided by the Algerian courts.