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Euro-Med HRM: 'Dozens of Palestinian refugees detained by Algerian authorities'

French Minister of State for Industry and Consumer Affairs, Luc Chatel (C), his Egyptian counterpart Rachid Mohamed Rachid (L) and Gunter Verheugen (D), European commissionner for Entreprise and Industry give a press conference during the 7th Euro-Mediterranean Conference of Ministers for Industry (Euromed) on "competitiveness, innovation and sustainable development" on November 6, 2008 in Nice, southeastern France. This conference takes place from November 5 to 6 as part of the Barcelona Process, launched in November 1995 and which aimed at creating a Euro-Mediterranean industrial partnership. AFP PHOTO STEPHANE DANNA (Photo credit should read STEPHANE DANNA/AFP/Getty Images)

The Euro- Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor, called on the Algerian authorities to assume their responsibility in protecting Palestinian asylum seekers who arrived in Algeria from the Gaza Strip at the beginning of last October.

According to a statement issued by Euro-Med HRM, the Algerian authorities "have detained since last October Palestinian asylum seekers at a refugee camp located in Tamanrasset Province, southern Algeria, and informed them that they will be deported to Gaza through Egypt, which may expose them to serious abuses and violates their rights as asylum seekers."

Euro-Med HRM indicated that the refugees, estimated to be 53, including children, "arrived in Algeria illegally after they had left the Gaza Strip, and crossed Egypt till they arrived in Mauritania. Afterwards, they were smuggled from the Mauritanian territories to the Sahara of Mali. They went on a perilous trip, which lasted seven days until they reached the Algerian borders on 1 October."

The human rights organisation quoted one of the refugees, whose identity was kept anonymous, saying: "When we left Gaza and crossed Egypt, we went to Mauritania, as Mauritanian authorities did not require Palestinians to get a visa. After a while, we headed toward the Sahara of Mali, where the journey of our suffering lasted for a week, as we were stripped off all our belongings and robbed by bandits. Consequently, we had no other choice but to eat dead animals so that we can survive."

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Euro-Med HRM stated that 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, with a period to settle their problematic situation. However, "the refugees were placed in a refugee camp, and they were prevented from moving freely. They were recently informed of the authorities' intention to deport them to the Gaza Strip through Egypt," he added.

The same eyewitness, who was among the detained refugees, described his fellows' situation saying: "We are now incarcerated in caravans within a shelter surrounded by barbed wire. In the morning they give us milk, and later they bring lunch and dinner together. The guards do not let us go out to buy anything, and if we want to buy something from outside the camp, the guards are the ones who buy it for us, but at double prices."

Sarah Pritchett, the spokeswoman for Euro-Med HRM, stressed that "Algeria must commit itself to the principle of non-refoulement as a customary principle of the international law, which stipulates that refugees should not be expelled in any way to the borders of countries in which their lives and freedom are at risk."

Pritchett also asserted that "the Algerian authorities treat these asylum seekers collectively, without any regard to the specificity of their cases, which need to be examined individually to conclude the eligibility of each refugee for asylum. Such a method of handling the situation violates the standards set forth by the international human rights law."

The spokeswoman for Euro-Med HRM added: "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 order and not mistreat them or continue detaining them unnecessarily."

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