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Algeria resumes repatriations to Niger amid migration row

By Lamine Chikhi

ALGIERS (Reuters) - Algeria has resumed the repatriation of migrants from Niger who have no legal right to reside in Algeria after a break of several weeks, a Red Crescent official said on Wednesday.

Algeria periodically repatriates migrants from sub-Saharan African countries including Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso, but the decision to resume deportations comes amid fierce debate over how to deal with irregular migration.

"The operation has already started, we will take care of the logistics," said a Red Crescent official who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Migrants fleeing poverty and conflict in their home countries look for work in Algeria and some use it as a transit country en route to Europe via neighboring Libya.

No official figure is available for the number of African migrants based in Algeria, but some unofficial estimates put it at around 100,000.

Prime Minister Abdelmadjid Tebboune has announced a plan to integrate migrants into the job market, responding to a shortage of workers in farming and construction. But other officials have criticized the move, saying migrants were a threat to Algeria's security.

The latest repatriations were "part of a series of measures taken by the Algerian government to strengthen cooperation with sub-Saharan African countries, notably Niger and Mali, to curb the irregular migration flows facing our country," said Benali Cherif, Algeria's foreign affairs spokesman, according to state news agency APS.

He gave no details of how many migrants would be repatriated, but said the operation was being carried out in coordination with authorities in Niger.

(Editing by Aidan Lewis, editing by Larry King)