Merkel, Bouteflika talk on migration; Algeria pledges to speed up repatriation

The two leaders talked about migration and developments in Libya, as Bouteflika sought to display a strong image ahead of presidential elections in April.
Sunday 23/09/2018
Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika (R) meets with visiting German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Algiers, on September 17. (Algerian Presidential Palace)
Business, trade and migration. Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika (R) meets with visiting German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Algiers, on September 17. (Algerian Presidential Palace)

TUNIS - Algeria pledged to speed up repatriations of its citizens living illegally in Germany following a meeting between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.

The two leaders talked about migration and developments in Libya, as Bouteflika sought to display a strong image ahead of presidential elections in April.

Merkel, whose immigration policy made it possible for Germany to welcome more than 1 million refugees in 2015, was the first foreign leader to meet with Bouteflika after his return from a medical check-up abroad.

During the meeting September 18 in Algiers, which was also attended by Algerian Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia and other high-level officials, Bouteflika was filmed appearing to struggle to address Merkel through a translator.

Bouteflika, 81, has suffered a series of health problems and has rarely been seen in public since suffering a stroke in 2013. He has yet to announce whether he will run for re-election next year.

Algeria’s opposition, citing his apparent fragile health, wants Bouteflika to step down when his fourth term expires next year. However, the president’s backers have urged him to seek re-election and point to his meeting with Merkel as evidence that he is in command of state affairs, analysts said.

Algerian political writer Hamid Saidani said Merkel’s meeting with Bouteflika “will be used very loosely and largely by backers of the fifth mandate. That event will be used to convince (the public)… that the president enjoys his full capacities to continue his mission.

“That explains the swiftness of the Algerian side to quickly address the issue of illegal migrants and please the German delegation with the clear and precise decision to repatriate the Algerian illegal migrants,” he said.

Algerian political analyst Arab Chih also said the meeting was meant to deliver a message that Bouteflika was in good health.

“The president’s advisers have certainly programmed the visit six months ahead of the elections to deliver a message that the president has the capacity to lead,” Chih said.

In February 2017, Merkel cancelled a planned visit to Algeria at the request of Algiers after Bouteflika fell ill.

Ouyahia, who presided over the latest talks with Merkel on migration and economic cooperation, said: “Algeria wants to remove the migration issue from the path of our ties with Germany.”

“Are we ready to receive 3,700 nationals who are illegally in Germany? I confirm to you that Algeria will repatriate all its sons, whether they are 3,000 or 5,000,” he said in response to a German reporter’s question.

Merkel’s visit to Algeria followed her tour in August of Nigeria, Ghana and Senegal, three of West Africa’s most vibrant economies. She then focused on how to further business links in the region and stem illegal migration to Europe.

Merkel was accompanied to Algiers by a dozen German businessmen looking to increase trade and investment. Algeria is one of the three largest African economies, which together account for 90% of Germany’s investment in the continent totalling $10 billion.

Germany-Algeria bilateral trade stood at $3.9 billion last year, official figures showed.

Algeria-Germany military cooperation has increased steadily since Merkel’s first visit to Algiers ten years ago, with Algeria purchasing more weapons from Germany than any other country in Africa. Algeria bought $1.51 billion worth of arms from Germany last year as part of a 10-year, $11.7 billion weapons deal beginning in 2011.

German-based Rheinmetall Defence opened an assembly line in cooperation with the Algeria’s Defence Ministry in the north-east town of Ain Smara, producing Fuchs vehicles for troop transport as part of the military agreement.

German automobile maker Daimler has a joint venture with Algeria’s Societe Nationale des Vehicules Industriels to manufacture military vehicles.

Ouyahia said a dozen projects had been discussed to increase cooperation between the two countries, with Algeria looking to Germany for help in diversifying its economy through growing its manufacturing sector.

Germany has encouraged businesses to invest in Algeria and other African countries to foster economic alternatives for citizens at home and reduce migration to Europe.

Algeria, by far the largest country in the region, borders Mali and Niger in the south, through which many migrants travel as they attempt to reach the Mediterranean and Europe.

Despite Algeria’s economic potential, it remains heavily reliant on oil and gas exports and economists see little sign of change, saying the country is likely to use increased oil revenue on imports rather than job-creating initiatives.

Overall unemployment was 11.1% in the first three months of this year, official figures show, but 26% among those under 30, who make up more than two-thirds of Algeria’s population of 41 million.

Germany has expanded business ties with Algeria and the rest of Africa, resulting in a considerable expansion of trade. German trade with Africa increased 35% in 2016 compared to the previous year and 12% in 2017, totalling $53.7 billion, official data indicate.

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