Algeria has been added to Ireland’s list of ‘safe’ countries. But how safe is it?

Recent reforms have not stopped crackdowns on dissent in country which Irish authorities advise citizens against visiting

Algeria, which has been added to Ireland’s list of “safe countries”, has a history of arresting and detaining well-known activists.

Despite reforms adopted over the past four years, the authorities continue to crack down on dissent by targeting human rights defenders and organisations, independent journalists and other dissidents.

United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders, Mary Lawlor, reported on December 5th last that there are many human rights activists and organisations working with the government and recently established consultative bodies to promote women’s and children’s rights, healthcare, poverty relief, and political participation.

Ms Lawlor warned, however, that laws with broad application adopted to counter terrorism have instilled “terror in human rights defenders” as the decrees have been used to intimidate and prosecute them.


This assessment is borne out by the National Committee for the Liberation of Detainees (NCLD) which monitors arrests, detentions, and treatment of political prisoners.

Al-Jazeera quoted veteran activist Zaki Hannache last November as saying there were 228 prisoners of conscience in Algeria, most of whom were held under terrorism legislation. The authorities have repeatedly arrested, detained and then freed well-known activists.

The NCLD was launched in 2019 after demonstrators belonging to the democratic Hirak movement took to the streets to protest a fifth term in office for aging president Abdelaziz Bouteflika. A hero of Algeria’s independence movement, he was elected by a landslide in 1999 and presided over the end of the 1992-2002 civil war pitting Muslim fundamentalists against the ruling secular National Liberation Front.

Bouteflika also weathered unrest during the 2011 Arab Spring protests, which overthrew long-serving presidents in Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen. To quell Algerian protests, the authorities used arbitrary arrest, detention and torture and imposed restrictions on media and non-governmental organisations.

By 2019, Algerians had become disillusioned with Bouteflika and his entourage due to alleged mismanagement and corruption. The largely peaceful protests compelled the military to demand Bouteflika’s resignation, but Hirak remained in the streets after the election in January 2020 of president Abdelmajid Tebboune. He had served under Bouteflika and retained ministers from the previous discredited government. He said he was ready to open dialogue with Hirak and pledged to “consolidate democracy, rule of law and respect for human rights”.

Nevertheless, the authorities have continued to arrest and prosecute prominent protesters.

In advice published on its website, Ireland’s Department of Foreign Affairs recommends citizens avoid non-essential travel to parts of Algeria and maintain a high degree of caution in others.

The advice says terrorism remains a threat outside the capital Algiers, around other cities, in the border regions and in the south, where Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Islamic State and other fundamentalist factions carry out shootings, bombings and kidnappings. Mugging is also a threat facing tourists in some parts of Algiers.

On Tuesday, Ireland added Algeria to its list of “safe countries” of origin as part of wider plans to subject more international protection applicants to faster processing times.

“Safe countries” are regarded as places where generally there is no persecution, torture, inhumane treatment or conflict.

  • Sign up for push alerts and have the best news, analysis and comment delivered directly to your phone
  • Find The Irish Times on WhatsApp and stay up to date
  • Our In The News podcast is now published daily – Find the latest episode here