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Paris airport: Algerian passengers from UK stranded for weeks

By Hugh Schofield

BBC News, Paris

image captionTwo children in the group appealed to the Algerian president to help them go home

Twenty-six Algerians returning home from the UK have been stuck in transit at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris for the past three weeks.

The group, which includes two young girls and a 75-year-old woman, flew from Heathrow Airport on 26 February.

In Paris they were told by Air Algeria they could not continue their journey, reportedly because of Covid measures.

They have since been living rough in the transit area of Terminal 2 at Charles de Gaulle.

The Algerian embassy in Paris told the BBC that the airline had informed everyone ahead of the flight that their tickets had been cancelled after the UK-Kent Covid variant was detected in Algeria on 25 February.

According to one of the passengers, some members of the group have British passports while others are UK residents or have a valid UK visa. One woman’s visa had expired, he said, and another was being sent back to Algeria as an illegal immigrant.

They all had urgent reasons to fly back, with some visiting sick relatives.

Since their arrival at the airport they have been sleeping on chairs or on the floor, eating food provided by volunteers. Another member of the group is being treated in hospital.

State-owned Air Algeria initially gave them food vouchers, but stopped when they refused the company’s offer to fly them back to London.

‘I gave up my flat’

They have access to showers in a zone of the airport where there is a hotel, but they are charged €20 (£17; $24) to use them. They also receive a doctor’s visit every day.

image captionThe group have had to sleep on chairs or on the floor

One man, who left his job as a chef in the town of Eastbourne on the south coast of England, told the BBC that they had taken an early morning flight on 26 February and all had tickets from London through to Algiers, as well as the required negative Covid test.

When they tried to board the connecting flight at Charles de Gaulle they were turned back, he said, because of the UK variant.

“Everyone has important personal reasons to go to Algeria. My wife is there and has had Covid. I gave up my flat and job. Otherwise we’d go back to the UK,” said the man, who wished to remain anonymous.

image captionVolunteers have been providing food for the group

Their situation has become more and more desperate, but they have vowed to stay put until the Algerian authorities let them travel.

“It is miserable here. How long can you keep sleeping on the floor before you crack? Two weeks, three weeks, four?”

Closing of Algeria’s borders

The Algerian embassy said its consul had met the group at the airport on 2 March “to tell them it was necessary for them to go back to their place of residence until the borders re-opened”. The passengers were told that the government in Algiers had decided to close the borders on 28 February and that no exception would be made, it said.

The airline had been willing to pay for hotel fees and tickets back to the passengers’ places of residence but the group had remained at the airport, the embassy spokesperson said.

For a year Algeria has run a very strict border policy, suspending most air and sea connections and stranding tens of thousands of its nationals abroad.

This has angered many in the Algerian diaspora who say that ordinary people are suffering while those with the right connections can still travel to and fro.

The French airports authority has said it is doing its best to help the Algerians, although the group are not their responsibility.

“It is a precarious situation, but we have no say over what happens to them,” a spokesperson said. “It is down to the Algerian authorities and Air Algeria.”

More stories about being stuck at airports

media captionHassan al-Kontar spoke to the BBC about being stranded at Kuala Lumpur airport in 2018

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