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Algeria: destination or transit country of sub-Saharan migrants?

For several years, there has been a recurring debate in Algeria on the number of sub-Saharan migrants who enter the country and who remain in an irregular situation. Many figures are quoted here and there, sometimes fueling the most extravagant fantasies about what is even described by some media as a “massive flow.”

Indeed, the migratory phenomenon occupies the media scene, with the recurring dissemination, especially on social media, of images and videos showcasing scenes of sub-Saharans placed in detention centers awaiting their deportation.

Much has been said about the “waves of migrants” arriving in Algeria from countries in sub-Saharan Africa, including from Algeria’s immediate neighbors Niger and Mali. According to UNDESA – Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the UN Secretariat: in 2019, 249,100 migrants of different nationalities were in Algerian territory.

Some sources put forward the figure of 30,000 arrivals, and that is only since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

It is true that the presence of sub-Saharan migrants is increasingly noticeable in several cities, both in the south and in the north of the country. However, the question many observers ask is: is Algeria a country of destination or of transit for sub-Saharan migrants?

According to some specialists, Algeria remains a ‘stage country’ in the migratory journey. Sub-Saharan migrants generally have Europe as their final destination and pass through Algeria as a transit country.

According to data shared with us by the Mixed Migration Center, an organization that seeks to gather data and expertise on mixed migration, and which surveys migrants and refugees from several countries in sub-Saharan Africa, a majority of which are from Niger. Out of 11,144 people surveyed between January 2017 and January 2020, 1,774 said they wanted to reach Algeria as their final destination, i.e. 16% of respondents. In addition, out of 1,129 people surveyed between February and March 2020, 202 said they wanted to reach Algeria as their final destination, i.e. 18% of respondents.

Regarding the Covid-19 crisis’ time-frame, out of 1.396 people surveyed between April and June 2020 (phase 1 of the pandemic), only 8 say they want to reach Algeria as their final destination, i.e. less than 1%. Finally, with regard to phase 2 of Covid-19, between July and October 2020, 304 people out of the 2,186 surveyed declared that they wanted to reach Algeria as their final destination, i.e. 14% of respondents. It should be noted that the majority of respondents, during the different periods of the survey, declared that the main motivation behind their desire to reach Algeria is their quest for a better economic situation.

It is true that this data do not provide us with much indication of the number of people who initially had other countries as their final objective in mind but who, crossing Algeria, end up settling here. But the fact remains that they encourage us to put into perspective what is often qualified in the media as a “massive flow” of sub-Saharan migrants to Algeria; the country remaining, to a large extent, a transitory stage in the migratory journey.

These figures also demonstrate that, for the moment, the Covid-2019 pandemic has not had a great impact on trends already observed for years. On the contrary, it would seem that it represented a brake, at least momentarily, for intra-regional migration, due to the closure of many borders since March 2020.