The issue of consular permits to return Algerian irregular immigrants sparked a sharp dispute between Paris and Algeria, after a French decision to reduce the number of visas, which the Arab country described as unilateral and unfortunate.
On Tuesday, the French government announced the tightening of visa requirements for citizens of Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia, and justified its move on the grounds that these countries refused to issue the consular permits necessary to return irregular migrants present on French soil.
A consular permit is a document issued by the consulate of an irregular immigrant in France that enables him to return to his country in the absence of a passport and is issued after the diplomatic authorities confirm that the person in question actually has their nationality.
According to unofficial estimates, about 5 million Algerian immigrants or of Algerian origin are in France, which is the most important community for this Arab country in the world.
The French move to reduce visas came in the wake of a political stalemate affecting the relations of the two countries, especially since Paris announced last April the postponement of the visit of its Prime Minister, Jean Castix, to Algeria, for the second time (first postponed in January of the same year), due to reasons related to the pandemic. Coronavirus, but the visit has not taken place until today.
However, French media later said that the real reason for the postponement of the visit was Algeria’s “discomfort” with the French decision at the last moment to reduce the number of ministers coming from Paris, as well as the duration of the visit from two days to one day.
French-Algerian relations have also witnessed a state of tension since President Abdelmadjid Tebboune came to power, against the background of the “memory file” and the crimes committed during the period of French colonization of Algeria (1830 – 1962).
These developments revealed indications of a decline in the role of Paris as a political and even economic partner for Algeria, in favor of other countries such as China, Turkey and Italy, especially since local reports indicated a decline in the value of investments between the two countries in recent years.
Observers believe that the latest French decision comes within the framework of bargaining by Paris towards Algeria, due to economic and political considerations that have surfaced recently, in addition to accounts related to the French elections scheduled for next 2022, and President Emmanuel Macron’s attempt to win the favor of the extreme right.
8 thousand Algerians are candidates for deportation
Algeria’s irregular immigrants in France are at the forefront of the Maghreb nationals concerned with deportation (they have been subjected to deportation orders from French soil) France, with nearly 8,000 people.
According to French media, 7,731 deportations were issued from French soil against Algerian nationals between January and July 2021, 597 of whom were arrested, and the Algerian authorities signed 31 consular permits to return them to their country.
The French authorities say that irregular migrants from Algeria are crossing its land borders with Italy and Spain, having reached the shores of these two countries by sea on small boats.
A group of Algerians also refuses to return to their country after the expiry of the visas granted to them by the French consulates, and they become illegal immigrants.
Summon the ambassador
On Wednesday, the Algerian Foreign Ministry summoned the French ambassador, François Gouyat, to protest Paris’ decision to tighten visa procedures for its citizens.
Last December, French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said that it was President Emmanuel Macron who decided to reduce visas granted to Algerians in 2019 to stop the flow of irregular immigration.
Since 2018, French consulates have reduced the number of visas granted to Algerian nationals.
According to official data from the French Consulate General in Algeria, out of 504,000 visa applications in 2019, 274,000 were approved.
According to the same data, the French consulates in Algeria (there are three) granted 412 thousand visas in 2018, while the number of applications exceeded half a million.
In response to Paris’s move, the Algerian Foreign Ministry said it “regretted” the French authorities’ decision to reduce the visas of its citizens, on the eve of their discussions on immigration.
The Foreign Ministry’s envoy to the Maghreb and Western Sahara, Ammar Ballani, said in statements to the official Algerian News Agency that the French decision was “unilateral, inconsistent and inappropriate.”
The same official explained, “The unfortunate decision comes on the eve of the Algerian delegation’s travel to Paris with the aim of strengthening cooperation in managing irregular migration between the two countries.”
Algeria and France are bound by an immigration agreement signed in February 1968, which included advantages and preferences for Algerians on French soil compared to the other Maghreb and African nationalities.
Among the advantages included in the agreement are the right to own property (real estate), practice trade, 10-year renewable residence documents, retiree rights (pensions), and the right to family reunification after an Algerian marriage to a French woman, or vice versa.
Bargaining for Algeria
In this context, the former director of immigration at the Algerian Ministry of the Interior, Hassan Qasimi, believes that the transfer of people and visas from France to France is an old file between the two countries, “in which Paris has always practiced blackmail and bargaining towards Algeria.”
Hassan Qasimi explained in an interview with The Eastern Herald that France tries every time to pressure Algeria with the file of movement and visas, sometimes for economic and political reasons.
French companies have been living in a difficult situation in Algeria for two years, adding to the political apathy between the two countries.
Many French companies left the Algerian market in various sectors such as banks, water, cars and public transportation, for various reasons, including Algeria’s refusal to renew the contracts of these companies, claiming their failure to carry out the tasks entrusted to them, as well as other disputes related to capital, which angered Paris.
Qasimi added that the French circles do not seem to be following the political developments in Algeria, which has regained its full sovereignty in all aspects and does not accept any blackmail or bargaining in the future.
He considered that the French move can also be explained by the early electoral campaign in anticipation of the upcoming presidential elections (2022), and therefore there are attempts to attract voters and gain popularity.
Hassan Qasimi expected that the French move would exacerbate irregular immigration, given that the European Union countries and France are strict in granting visas and legal immigration, which, according to him, necessarily means that migrants resort to irregular routes.
Electoral paper in France
For his part, the Algerian political activist, Youssef Bouaboun, residing in the French city of Marseille, described what the French government announced regarding the reduction of Algerian visas, as “an escalation and an attempt to pressure Algeria by all means, given the economic deals that Paris lost.”
In an interview with The Eastern Herald, he explained that many French companies left Algeria and lost major deals in that country, which prompted the Paris government to escalate.
Bouaboun linked the upcoming French presidential elections (2022) to the step of reducing Algerians’ visas, given that Macron is a candidate for it.
“With this arbitrary step, he (Emmanuel Macron, the president of France) is trying to please the voters of the extreme right,” he said.
Bouaboun pointed out that the Algerian community is the largest and most important in France, with a population of more than 5 million, and any resident has the right to invite his family in Algeria to visit him via a visa.