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The New Arab Staff & Agencies

Coronavirus travel ban strands Algerians for weeks at Paris airport

Charles de Gaulle airport during the pandemic [Getty]

Date of publication: 19 March, 2021

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Algerians who had been seeking to fly from London to Algiers via Paris but are now stuck in Charles de Gaulle airport on the northern outskirts of Paris
A group of Algerians, including children, has been stuck at Paris's Charles de Gaulle airport for nearly three weeks, fighting to get home despite their government's strict border closure to keep out Covid-19 cases.

Algerian authorities have asked the 25 citizens to go back to Britain, where they currently live, but they have refused, citing an urgent need to be with family members and relatives.

They had been seeking to fly from London to Algiers via Paris but are now stuck in France's biggest airport on the northern outskirts of the French capital.

"We absolutely had the right to leave for Algeria, we followed all the requirements," said Hocine, a 49-year-old surgeon who left London with his wife and three-year-old daughter on February 26.

The couple have negative Covid tests and have even been vaccinated, according to documents shown to AFP.

Algeria has allowed repatriation flights for citizens since cutting all plane and maritime links with France in March last year as the pandemic took hold.

But the emergence of a more contagious variant that first originated in England prompted the government to end repatriations completely, until at least the end of this month.

"The Algerian consulate... has met several times since March 2, 2021, with members of this group to discuss the situation and explain the need for them to return to their residences while awaiting the border reopening," the Algerian embassy said in a statement seen by AFP on Friday.

As the stalemate continues, the travellers are stuck in the international transit zone at Charles de Gaulle, depending on food handouts from volunteers and vouchers from ADP, the airport operator.

They have access to an on-site hotel but with the bills mounting quickly, many sleep on the carpeted floor despite the din and loudspeaker announcements, and use the public toilets for washing.

"Psychologically it's not easy," said Hocine, who has emerged as a spokesman for the group.

The Algerian embassy says the state-owned carrier Air Algerie warned the travellers before boarding against flying, saying it would be impossible to return home.

"It's a lie," Hocine said, "the people now here were told only after arriving" in Paris.

The group has enlisted lawyers to study an emergency legal challenge to the repatriation ban.

"You cannot treat people his way, it's disrespectful of their lives and their dignity," one of the lawyers, Karima Hadj Said, told AFP.

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