Treatment of Christians and Christian converts in Algeria by the FIS and the GIA; whether there is any protection available to them by the police [DZA32075.E]

According to a specialist on Algeria and a professor of political science at St.John's University in New York, most Christians in Algeria are foreigners (29 June 1999). Algerian Christians are not targeted because they are Christians. Anti-Islamic or anti-régime militancy are more important factors explaining the mistreatment of persons in Algeria. A researcher with Amnesty International's North African team stated that there was a large French Catholic community which left the country after the 1996 massacre of French Trappist monks at Notre-Dame-de-l'Atlas monastery (30 June 1999). The researcher added that the French authorities are currently negotiating the return of religious personnel to the same monastery. Christians in Algeria are not threatened by the Front islamique du salut (FIS) or the Armée islamique du salut (AIS) because both organizations have renounced violence (ibid.). The director of the World Algeria Action Coalition (WAAC), an organization working for the peaceful resolution of the conflict in Algeria, stated that there are Christians living in Algiers and in Oran and they are not mistreated (28 June 1999).

The professor of political science and the Amnesty International researcher did not have any specific information on the treatment of converts in Algeria, but indicated that large cities are much safer for converts from Islam to Christianity than rural areas (30 June 1999; 29 June 1999). All three sources added that because conversion to a religion other than Islam is not well regarded in Algeria, converts keep their conversion secret and are, therefore, not publicly known (28 June 1999; 29 June 1999; 30 June 1999). The director of the WAAC stated that there are conversions to Christianity done in the Kabyle region without problems (ibid.). The director of WAAC has never come across reports on the mistreatment of converts in Algeria.

According to the Bethany World Prayer Center Website called The Unreached Peoples Prayer Profiles, 8 missions are working among the Kabyle of Algeria in order to convert them to Christianity, 92,500 Kabyle have been "evangelized by local Christians" while 725, 400 have been "evangelized from the outside". 6,053 Kabyle are now considered Church members. The same source indicates that there are 677 Church members among the Shilah of Algeria with 3 missions working to convert more members to the Christian faith. 30,800 of them have been "evangelized by local Christians", while 150,400 were "evangelized from the outside". The Shawiya Berber of Algeria have 3 Christian missions working for conversion while 71,500 have been "evangelized from the outside." The Ahaggaren Tuareg of Algeria also have 3 Christian missions attempting to convert them. 3,300 have been "evangelized from the outside."

According to information posted on the Website of International Fides Service (IFS), a service offered by the Pontifical Mission Society for the Propagation of the Faith, a Vatican-based organization disseminating information on Catholic missions abroad, in Algeria

The Catholic Church was not spared. Between 1993 and 1996 nineteen Religious were killed. The last to be murdered were seven Trappist Monks of Notre Dame d'Atlas monastery abducted and killed in May 1996, and Bishop Claverie of Oran killed with his driver in a car-bomb on the 1st August 1996. Since then there have been no attacks against Christian Religious (16 Apr. 1999).

In an interview conducted by IFS with Archbishop Henri Teissier of Algiers, he stated that

Christians are few in Algeria, but they earn the respect of their neighbours and co-workers wherever they are. Our neighbours for example were full of admiration to see that the Christian community, at least the priests, Religious and some lay people, did not abandon the country during the crisis. This fidelity was paid in blood by 18 people including priests, men and women religious and one bishop. Dozens of foreign lay people were murdered, undoubtedly because they were foreigners, but also because they were Christians. This was the case of 12 Croats found with their throats slit on December 14 1993 in a river near Tibhirine. A sign of hope was the arrival of a courageous group of thirty volunteers, priests and women Religious; ten of whom are new, and the other twenty anxious to return to Algeria despite the crisis, or perhaps precisely because of the crisis. In the last two years Church personnel has been renewed by 15%: this is encouraging for the future of our Church. We thank the Congregations and dioceses who had the vision to encourage these vocations. But we would also ask lay movements, new movements in particular, to respond generously and positively to the call of the Church in Algeria. Our mission as a Christian community is quite unique. Our aim is to be the Church in a totally Muslim society. By means of professional responsibility, social and humanitarian commitment, but above all through friendly relations, it is possible to build up Muslim/Christian co-operation (16 Apr. 1999).

On its Internet site, the International Coalition for Religious Freedom stated that

Algeria has a population of 29 million, 99 percent are Sunni Muslim. Christians and Jews account for the remaining 1percent. The Constitution declares Islam the state religion and prohibits religious discrimination. Article 9 of the constitution forbids practices contrary to Islamic morals. Article 28 states that the citizens are equal before the law without any possible discrimination on the basis of birth, race, gender (sex), opinion or all other conditions or personal or social circumstance. Article 35 provides for the freedom of conscience and the freedom of opinion.
According to United Nations reports, Christians and Jews are allowed to practice their faiths without interference. There is continual violence in the country as clashes occur between government forces and militant Islamists. The Armed Islamic Group, an extremist faction seeking to topple the government, is intent on eliminating Jews, Christians, and polytheists from Algeria.
As Algeria is a former French colony, anti-France and anti-USA sentiment runs high. There has been systematic violence against Jews in Algeria since the 1960s. Recent incidents of religious persecution includes the kidnapping and murder of seven French Trappist monks and the killing of a French Bishop. During 1995 two Roman Catholic priests and three nuns were murdered, and a fourth nun was wounded by extremists.

On 27 March 1996, Reuters reported that

Foreign religious workers, mainly Christian, have in part been protected from the slaughter, now totalling more than 100 foreigners, by the low profile they have necessarily kept while operating in a Moslem country.

The New York Times reported that

In Algeria, the Armed Islamic Group has called for "the annihilation and physical liquidation of Christian crusaders" (23 Nov. 1996).

According to the 1999 Almanach populaire catholique, Catholic Christians represents 0.01 per cent of the population, or 3,213 members out of a total 28,550,000 Algerians (407). The diocese, located in Algiers, represents four ecclesiastical circumscriptions, 51 pastoral centers, an average of 63 Catholics per center, and 30 Catholics per priest (ibid.). In his 1989 book entitled A Guide to Christian Churches in the Middle East, Norman Horner provides a population breakdown of the various Christian denominations compared to the Algerian Christian population: the Eastern Orthodox (0,6%); the Oriental Orthodox (2,2%); Catholic (93,6%); Protestant and Anglican (3,4%) (1989, 102). Horner indicates that Christians in Algeria represent 0,43 per cent of the Algerian population (ibid.). According to the Bethany World Prayer Center Website called The Unreached Peoples Prayer Profiles, Algerian Christians represent 0.6 per cent of the population.

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum.


Almanach Catholique Populaire. 1999. "Algérie." Sainte-Anne de Beaupré, Qué: Revue Sainte-Anne.

Amnesty International, North Africa Team, London, England. 30 June 1999. Telephone interview with researcher.

The Bethany World Prayer Center. The Unreached Peoples Prayer Profiles. The Kabyle of Algeria. [Accessed on 17 June 1999]

_____. The Southern Shila of Algeria. [Accessed on 17 June 1999]

_____. The Shawiya Berber of Algeria. [Accessed on 17 June 1999]

_____. The Ahaggaren Tuareg of Algeria. [Accessed on 17 June 1999]

Director, World Algerian Action Coalition (WAAC), Washington, DC. 28 June 1999. Telephone interview.

Horner, Norman. 1989. A Guide to Christian Churches in the Middle East. Elkhart: Mission Focus.

International Coalition for Religious Freedom. Religious Freedon in the Middle East and North Africa. wysiwyg://13/

/wrpt/mideastrpt.htm > [Accessed on 17 June 1999]

International Fides Service. 16 April 1999. No. 4143-NE197. "Algeria." [Accessed on 17 June 1999]

The New York Times. 23 November 1996. "Who Needs this Committee on Religious Freedom Abroad?" (NEXIS)

Reuters. 27 March 1996. John Baggaley. "Monk's Kidnap Shows Risk to Algeria 'Soft Target'." (LEXIS)

Professor of political science, St.John's University, New York State. 29 June 1999. Telephone interview. The professor has recently completed a six year study of the Maghreb, including Algeria, where he spent his 1998 summer. The research project resulted in the publication of a new book entitled Economic Crisis and Political Change in North Africa (1998). He is currently conducting field research in Algeria.

Additional Sources Consulted

Le Coz, Raymond. 1995. L'Église d'orient: Chrétiens d'Irak, d'Iran et de Turquie. Paris: Les Éditions du Cerf.

Valognes, Jean-Pierre. 1994. Vie et mort des chrétiens d'orient: Des origines à nos jours. Paris: Fayard.