Sunday, October 17

Algerian passengers ‘trapped’ for three weeks at Paris airport due to COVID-19 border closure

A group of about 25 Algerians have been stuck in transit at the main Paris airport for almost three weeks, after leaving the UK trying to reach Algiers.

The COVID-19 restrictions are blamed for their plight, which has seen them camping in an international terminal at Charles de Gaulle Airport since they flew in from London Heathrow on February 26.

The Algerian authorities have reportedly refused to allow them to board, as the country has officially suspended air and sea links with France and the rest of the world since March 2020.

At that time, repatriation flights were organized for Algerian citizens, under conditions. But the recent appearance of the British variant of the coronavirus has brought with it a tightening of restrictions and flights have been suspended for the entire month of March.

“We absolutely had the right to go to Algeria, we respected everything,” said Hocine, a 49-year-old British-Algerian surgeon who has been stuck in Paris with his wife and three-year-old daughter. He insisted that everyone in the group had negative COVID-19 test results. AFP saw documents indicating that he and his wife had also been vaccinated against the virus.

The group, made up of single men and three families, including a 78-year-old woman and two young children, have been sleeping in chairs or on the floor. They have been using the airport’s sanitary facilities, while meals have been provided through donations or coupons from the airport authorities.

“Every day, there is someone who is going to laugh. Psychologically it is not easy at all,” says Hocine, who wants to return to Algeria to take care of her mother-in-law after suffering a stroke.

The Algerian authorities had asked them not to make their trip a few days before their departure, according to two sources involved in their case. But the group is determined to reach their country at all costs and refused to take a turn.

‘Political’ border closures

Several million Algerians are facing the closure of the country’s borders. Even residents of Algeria are subject to this measure, even though the nation currently has fewer than 150 coronavirus infections a day.

The restrictions have also affected people in Algeria seeking to reach Europe, especially France, where there is a large diaspora.

“I was not by my daughter’s side when she gave birth, as tradition demands,” deplored Ouahiba, who was delighted to travel to Lille in France. Instead, she has followed her grandson’s progress from the Kabylia region through videos.

In Algiers, Zakaria, 27, said he did not know when he would be reunited with his new wife in France. “It is terrible to be separated from the person you love for so long without knowing when we can see each other again,” he added.

In February, President Abdelmadjid Tebboune praised the country’s strategy against the coronavirus, a reference to border closures. However, the measures have not prevented the British variant from entering the territory.

Samir Yahiaoui, an opponent of the Algerian government who lives in France, said the “total blockade” was imposed for “political reasons rather than health reasons” and was causing “anguish” in families, especially when deaths occurred.

“It is an Algerian exception that is obviously due to Hirak,” he said, referring to the protest movement against the regime, suggesting that the authorities were taking advantage of the situation to carry out a “purge.”

“There are people in Kafkaesque situations … situations that are like great psychodramas,” said Omar Tibourtine, an Algerian doctor at a Paris hospital, adding that a large part of the population was in a straitjacket.

Merwan, a 34-year-old businessman, said there was a “VIP list” that allowed people with the “right connections” to make return trips from Algeria to Europe. He added that he had been given the opportunity to take a flight to spend Christmas in Paris, but he refused.

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