(Corrects title of the speaker in first and third paragraphs to show he is not the minister but an Interior Ministry official)
ALGIERS (Reuters) - Algeria expects to get more illegal migrants from sub-Saharan Africa after the European Union made it more difficult to reach Europe by boat, a senior official in the country’s interior ministry said on Thursday.
A 2016 EU agreement with Turkey all but closed the sea route to the Greek islands that almost a million people took in 2015. Departures have also fallen from the latest main start point, Libya, thanks to EU support for the Libyan coastguard. Italy is also helping Tunisia to stop boat departures.
“We are now at tens of thousands (of illegal migrants), but in the near future we can talk about hundreds of thousands after Europe closed its doors,” Hassen Kacimi, interior ministry official in charge of illegal migration, told reporters.
“The solution is not to close the borders from one side and let people die on the other side,” he said. “Algeria is very concerned by the growing numbers of illegal migrants.”
He said his country, which has a 2,500-kilometre border with Mali and Niger, had spent $20 million in the past three years to handle an influx of illegal migrants from the Sahel region fleeing war, insecurity or poverty.
“Nobody has helped us, we are handling the situation with our own means,” Kacimi said.
He also rejected accusations from rights group, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, that migrants were deported in a degrading way.
“We are not Nazis, and migrants never die in Algeria,” Kacimi said.
Reporting by Lamine Chikhi; Editing by Ulf Laessing, Larry King