Algeria has summoned the French ambassador to the country following a pledge by Paris to slash the number of visas available to nationals from Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia.
In a statement on Wednesday, Algeria’s foreign ministry said Ambassador Francois Gouyette had been summoned “to notify him a formal protest … following the unilateral decision of the French government”.
The statement added that “this decision was taken without prior consultation with the Algerian side, which calls into question its reasons and backgrounds.”
The French government’s plan was announced on Tuesday in response to North African governments’ refusal to take back undocumented migrants sent home by French authorities.
“We will reduce the number of visas very significantly,” Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said in Paris on Wednesday.
The number of visas issued for Algeria and Morocco will be reduced by 50 percent, while visas granted for Tunisian nationals will be reduced by two thirds, he added.
The minister said the step was taken because the three countries refused to take back some of their own nationals, who were expelled from France because they had committed crimes, had become “radicalised” or had no residence permit.
“As long as you do not take back your nationals, we will not accept your nationals,” Darmanin said in an interview with French broadcaster BFMTV.
The minister stressed that it had nothing to do with the French presidential election scheduled for next April.
Migration has become a key issue among the conservative and far-right camps in the run-up to the election campaign.
Far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen gave qualified backing to the visa reduction on Tuesday, but suggested that President Emmanuel Macron’s government waited too long before acting.
Le Pen was Macron’s main rival in the 2017 election and is seen as his principal opponent.
“For a long, long, long, long time, I have been asking that steps be taken to oblige certain countries to respect international law,” she said, naming Algeria and Tunisia. “I am pleased that the president of the republic heard me. I find it’s a bit late.”
Moroccan, Tunisian reaction
Morocco’s foreign minister on Tuesday slammed the French decision as “unjustified”.
Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita said his country has issued 400 consular documents to Moroccans being expelled from France, but the number was limited because many of them refused to take a coronavirus test, which is required to re-enter Morocco.
That is “the problem of France, which must deal with it”, Bourita told a news conference in Rabat.
He said Morocco is trying to seek “the necessary balance between facilitating the movement of people, whether students, businessmen and those wishing to benefit from medical services, and combating clandestine immigration”.
Tunisia took a more conciliatory public stance. President Kais Saied’s office said: “We are among countries that are cooperative in this domain, and we have excellent relations with France.”