Algerian official sparks outrage with derogatory remarks about migrants
Intellectuals accused Islamists and their political adversaries, such as Ouyahia, of attempting to “destroy secular values of solidarity.”
In struggle for acceptance. A migrant from Guinea working at a construction site in Algiers. (Reuters)
2017/07/16 Issue: 115 Page: 9
The Arab Weekly
Tunis- A top Algerian government official came under fire after he made derogatory comments about sub-Saharan migrants, statements that added to a growing wave of anti-migrant sentiment.
Ahmed Ouyahia, chief of staff to Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, said “foreigners who are illegally in Algeria are the source of crime, drugs and many more social ills.”
Ouyahia’s remarks came after a cyber-campaign to “cleanse” Algeria of African migrants, whom many accuse of committing crimes and bringing disease to the country.
While Bouteflika has pushed back on the “racist” rhetoric, saying that Algeria has a “moral and human duty” to help those fleeing war and poverty, members of his staff have supported a populist narrative.
In December, Bouteflika’s top human rights adviser, Farouk Ksentini, accused African migrants of exposing Algerians “to the spread of AIDS and other diseases.” On July 10, Algerian Foreign Minister Abdelkader Messahel said: “Organised criminal networks (operating) behind the exodus of migrants (have) become a menace to national security.”
“It is our duty as a government and Algerians to defend the sovereignty of our nation and the security of Algeria,” Messahel said.
Some Algerians defended the politicians, saying the country’s growing migrant population creates serious concerns.
“One can criticise Ouyahia for many domestic issues but in his statement about migrants he expressed the worries and fears of millions of Algerians,” said Mehdaoui Zouiwesh, an Algerian writer. “Indeed, police, without making it public, have handled thousands of cases related to drugs, crimes and prostitution in which these ‘migrants’ were involved.”
Despite the surge in anti-migrant sentiment in Algeria, sub- Saharan migrants seemingly fare no better in neighbouring Libya.
Returning from Tripoli, Mohammed Abdiker, director of Operations and Emergencies for the International Organisation of Migration (IOM), said reports of abuse among migrants “are truly horrifying” and that “reports of ‘slave markets’ for migrants can be added to a long list of outrages.”
“The more the IOM engages inside Libya, the more we learn that it is a vale of tears for many migrants,” he said.
Libyan writer Abderazzak al- Dahesh said African migrants were kidnapped and sold in broad daylight. He added that migrants are sold at prices based on their nationality, with Bangladeshis sold at the highest price — 10,000 Libyan dinars ($7,350).
Algerian Prime Minister Abdelmadjid Tebboune has sided with migrant’s rights activists in calling for better protection and assistance.
“We are not racists. We are Africans, Maghrebis and Mediterraneans,” Tebboune said to parliament in reaction to the anti-migrant comments. “We won’t allow any NGO or individual to tarnish the image of our country.”
Rights activists took particular issue with Ouyahia’s anti-migrant remarks.
“We must react and show the people who make such comments that they do not reflect the whole of Algerian society,” said Hasina Oussedik, head of Amnesty International’s Algiers office. “We are an African country and we have fellow Algerians with dark skin.”
Noureddine Benissad, president of the Algerian Human Rights League said: “Some parties in Algeria are borrowing from the discourse of political parties in Europe, which argue that migrants are a danger for their countries.
“These parties in Algeria said that the country is being invaded by migrants carrying diseases. This is totally untrue.”
Ouyahia, who also heads the parliament’s second largest political party, the National Democratic Rally, stressed the importance of protecting the country’s sovereignty.
“There are great powers who are planning to build a wall to separate them from their neighbours and Europe is seeking to transform Algeria and the north into camps to stop migrants from Africa,” Ouyahia said.
Activist Sidali Kouidri Filali said it was important to recognise the connection between all Africans. “I’m Algerian and African,” Filali said. “I share with this continent the land, the future, the torments of history and abjection of colonialism.”
Intellectuals accused Islamists, who exert significant influence in society, and their political adversaries, such as Ouyahia, of attempting to “destroy secular values of solidarity.”
“The willingness to destroy the fundamental values of the Algerian people reflects a strategy by those in government like Ouyahia. That value is the readiness to help others and show fraternity and camaraderie,” said Algerian writer Youcef Benzatat.
El Watan, Algeria’s main daily newspaper, reported that citizens and refugee advocates have taken food, clothes and money to the Oued Karma refugee camp outside Algiers, which hosts about 1,600 refugees.