Irregular immigration and gas supply, two flammable issues with Algeria
Reception by the Red Cross of 58 people who were rescued from a small boat in their attempt to reach Almería.
Reception by the Red Cross of 58 people who were rescued from a small boat in their attempt to reach Almería.RED CROSS (RED CROSS)

The Ministry of the Interior is concerned about how relations with Algeria, which has just suspended the treaty of friendship and good neighborliness with Spain due to the “unjustifiable turn” over the Sahara, will impact the number of arrivals along the so-called Algerian route, that connects the coast of the Maghreb country with Almería, Murcia, the Balearic Islands and Alicante. Of particular concern are the islands, focused on their summer season and with less infrastructure to guard and manage the flow of immigrants.

Even before the diplomatic crisis between the two countries, the number of boats and immigrants arriving on Spanish shores from Algeria had been increasing. The numbers skyrocketed in 2019, coinciding with the control exercised by Morocco on its coast in the north of the country and the sophistication of the Algerian mafias that facilitated the emigration of thousands of young people frustrated with the political, economic and social crisis in their country. In 2021, the irregular entry of 11,330 Algerians was recorded, according to data from the National Police to which EL PAÍS has had access. In the first five months of this year, before the most intense season begins, 1,156 have been registered.

The figures for Algeria, a partner whose collaboration the Spanish authorities recognize in containing irregular emigration, are currently well below those of Morocco, even after Spain has recomposed its relations with Rabat. Until the beginning of the year, 7,160 irregular immigrants arrived in Spain by sea and left Morocco, compared to 1,250 who did so from Algeria; that is, less than a fifth. It must be borne in mind that the vast majority of immigrants who depart from the Algerian coast are nationals of the country, while those who do so from Morocco are mostly Moroccan, but also sub-Saharan. The balance, however, will only be complete at the end of the year. In 2021, in fact, the number of Algerians (11,330) was very close to that of Moroccans (13,178).

Unlike Morocco, Algeria has so far not used immigration as an instrument of pressure on Spain but, since Algeria withdrew its ambassador from Madrid, Said Moussi, on March 19, it has suspended the repatriations of irregular immigrants that were carried out weekly by ferry. The concern that is felt in the Spanish security forces was transmitted last May in Tenerife by Lieutenant General Juan Luis Pérez Martín, head of the Border Command and Maritime Police of the Civil Guard: “Morocco is controlled, I think they are collaborating a lot and if they collaborate there will be many fewer exits. The main unknown is how Algeria will react: there may be a change in trend.”

The other matter of greatest concern in relations between Spain and Algeria is the supply of gas. Although Spain has diversified suppliers in recent years, 40% of the gas it consumes comes from Algeria and it is the only one that arrives through a tube (the Medgaz, which connects Almería with Beni Saf, after the closure of the one that crosses Morocco, the Maghreb-Europe last November). This gas is also cheaper than the one that arrives by ship, since it does not have to undergo the liquefaction and regasification process that liquefied gas (LNG) requires.

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The main supply contract, the one that unites the Spanish company Naturgy with the Algerian state company Sonatrach, expires in 2032, so the supply is guaranteed and not in danger, according to diplomatic and industry sources. The Minister of Foreign Affairs, José Manuel Albares, hastened this Wednesday to recall that Algeria is a “reliable partner” and has given “guarantees at the highest level” that it will fulfill the contracts it has signed.

Prices, however, are reviewed every three years, a process that is carried out periodically and in which both parties have been involved since last year. It is taken for granted that it will increase the price, given the evolution of the market, but the Spanish side trusts that it will not end up paying the price of the bad political relationship. “Nothing changes, everything remains the same,” sources from the former Gas Natural Fenosa told EL PAÍS, underlining the “good relationship” with its Algerian partner, who is part of its own shareholding. Sonatrach has 4.1% of Naturgy’s shares.

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