Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 25 April 2019

Algeria shuts southern borders to Syrians over security fears

The official said 100 people had been expelled from the country in recent weeks

Three men head north towards Algeria after crossing the Assamaka border post in northern Niger in June. AP
Three men head north towards Algeria after crossing the Assamaka border post in northern Niger in June. AP

Algeria has 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 on Wednesday.

Hassen Kacimi, the official in charge of migrant policy at the interior ministry, told Reuters that Syrians seeking refuge in Algeria in this way were suspected to be Islamist extremists and were not welcome.

Algeria experienced years of devastating civil war with violent groups in the 1990s. While violence is now greatly diminished, sporadic attacks continue in isolated areas.

"We have hosted 50,000 Syrians in the past few years for humanitarian reasons," Mr Kacimi said, "but we cannot accept members of armed groups fleeing from Syria when it comes to our security."

He said around 100 people had 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.

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Mr Kacimi said these Syrians had transited Turkey, Jordan, Egypt, Sudan and Niger or Mali using fake Sudanese passports.

"Definitely this is a criminal network and we must be very vigilant not to allow them get into Algeria," he said.

Algeria has kept diplomatic relations with Syria throughout its own civil war, in which President Bashar al-Assad has largely defeated rebels and extremists trying to topple him. Syrians do not need visas to enter Algeria.

Algeria's south and southeast are largely empty desert regions but it has beefed up its security presence there after neighbouring Libya and northern Mali and Niger fell into the hands of various militant and rebel factions.

Since its 1990s civil war, Algeria has become an important US ally against extremists active in the arid Sahel region of north and west Africa.

Updated: January 3, 2019 04:18 AM

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