Algerian passengers from UK stranded for weeks at Paris airport

Group stranded after the UK-Kent Covid variant was detected in Algeria and the country closed its borders

Travelers pass through the check-in hall at Charles de Gaulle airport, operated by Aeroports de Paris, in Roissy, France, on Friday, Dec. 18, 2020. The rollout of vaccines against Covid-19 has intensified debate about whether they should be made mandatory, with the head of a major tourism lobby saying that doing so would cause irreparable harm to the struggling sector. Photographer: Nathan Laine/Bloomberg via Getty Images

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

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

In Paris, they were told by Air Algeria they could not continue their journey, reportedly because of Covid-19 measures.

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

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

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. A 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.

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

One man, who left his job as a chef in the town of Eastbourne on the south coast of England, said he had taken an early morning flight on February 26 and had tickets from London through to Algiers, as well as the required negative Covid-19 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 chose to remain anonymous.

Their situation has become 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?"

The Algerian embassy said its consul had met the group at the airport on March 2 "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 February 28 and that no exception would be made, it said.

The airline was 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 representative 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 citizens abroad.

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

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

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