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Algeria disbands migrant smuggling network to Europe, arrests nine Syrians

The arrest of the network coincided with a migrant boat capsizing off the coast of Tunisia, killing five people.
An Algerian flag is displayed on a small boat used by migrants to cross The Alboran Sea, in an open-air warehouse in Almeria, southeast Spain, on October 15, 2021. - At least 309 migrants, 13 of them minors, have died in the western Mediterranean since the start of the year, figures from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) show. The number of Algerians arriving on the coast of southeastern Spain or the Balearic Isles has soared in recent months. A confidential document compiled by the Spanish

Algerian police announced on Wednesday the arrest of an international network that worked on transferring migrants from Syria to Europe through Algeria. 

According to a statement posted on Facebook by the Algerian police, the Central Department of the Fight against Organized Crime, affiliated with the Directorate General for National Security, arrested this week nine Syrians and six Algerians, among them two women, suspected of belonging to this network. The police also seized more than $11,000 and 9,000 euros, as well as currency in Lebanese and Syrian pounds, during the operation.

The latest bust follows a five-month investigation launched by Algeria's National Security Services, revealing that the smugglers are routing illegal migrants from Syria and Lebanon to Libya via Benghazi’s airport. Then, they would be taken by land to the Libyan town of Ghadames, from which they would cross the border with Algeria to Debdeb to finally arrive in the port city of Oran in western Algeria, facing the Spanish coast. There, the network would coordinate with a Syrian national — who is among those arrested — to organize the illegal sea trips to Europe. 

In the last few years, Algerian authorities have arrested hundreds of Syrians on their border with Libya planning to make the dangerous trip to Europe via sea crossings. Libya has become a popular transit point for migrants fleeing hardships and conflicts in the Middle East and Africa, hoping to reach Europe despite the dangers and risks of the sea journey. 

According to Caminando Fronteras, a Spanish nongovernmental organization working to protect migrants’ rights, more than 1,500 people died or went missing between 2018 and 2022 as they attempted to cross from Algeria to Spain over the Mediterranean. 

Boat capsized off Tunisia

On Wednesday, five African migrants were killed and at least 28 others went missing when their boat capsized off the coast of Tunisia as they headed toward Italy. The United Nations reports that nearly 12,000 migrants coming from Tunisia successfully arrived in Italy this year. 

Activists claim that the number of migrants heading to Europe from Tunisia has increased recently after President Kais Saied’s controversial comments on irregular migration last month. “The undeclared goal of the successive waves of illegal immigration is to consider Tunisia a purely African country that has no affiliation to the Arab and Islamic nations,” Saied said in a speech to the National Security Council. His remarks set off a wave of racist attacks against sub-Saharans in Tunisia, pushing many to live in hiding or seek refuge elsewhere. 

Meanwhile, Europe is intensifying efforts to curb illegal migration from North Africa. Several programs and partnerships with North African countries have been launched over the past years as part of these efforts. The European Union is also aiming to spend 580 million euros (about $631 million) as part of an action plan it launched in November 2022 to address the migration crisis in the central Mediterranean region. 

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