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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: On les appelle les « haragas »

by Hassane Zerrouky, special correspondent, Algeria

Algerians Seeking a Better Life in Europe: the “Haragas”

Translated Tuesday 16 January 2007

Algeria. On makeshift boats, wearing lifejackets, they attempt to reach Spain. When it doesn’t end in sentencing by a tribunal, their adventure often concludes with with a tragedy.

Early November, a trawler picks up a lifeless body, buffeted by the sea off Fouka, a small fishing village west of Algiers. The young man, originally from the western region of Algeria was identified through to his cell telephone, wrapped up in a plastic bag, tied to his body. He had been one of ten passengers on a small motorboat, launched on the beach of Ghazouet, close to the Moroccan border, heading for the Spanish coast. Nobody knows what happened to his companions. This drama is symptomatic of a phenomenon that Morocco knows only too well, the phenomenon of the “haragas” (those who “skim” across the sea, the forbidden ones, to attempt the adventure of emigration).

They jointly purchase a Zodiac

They are between 20 and 35 years old, pay 150,000 dinars (1500 euros) for the “right of passage” to Spain, and each takes along a simple life jacket. Sometimes, it is young people from the same neighborhood who put together their money to buy a Zodiac with a motor, food and water, to take to the sea. The adventure often ends up badly, as was the case for these seven young, from a neighborhood in Oran, picked up by an Algerian coastguard patrol, a few days after their departure. They had already drowned.

The phenomenon of “haragas” first surfaced in 2006 in the west of Algeria, where the Spanish coast is closest. It is becoming increasingly evident. Since the beginning of the year, 42 bodies of young men have been recovered in the high seas, other bodies were found on the region’s beaches. The Algerian coastguard intervened more than thirty times in 2006, helping 386 emigration candidates, 373 with Algerian citizenship. On 19 December, a patrol boat of the Algerian navy helped 11 haragas off the coast of Oran. It is thanks to the cell phone of one of these clandestine emigrants that they could be located and helped: the motor of their small boat had broken down.

And often, these attempts at crossing the Mediterranean end up with death at sea or in a Spanish Court-room. On 21 November, 65 haragas were sentenced to two months in jail by the Ain El Turk tribunal, near Oran. They were on board a sardine-boat that broke down a few miles from the coast. They had each paid 160,000 dinars (1600 euros) for the crossing. But the traffickers who smuggle the clandestine emigrants are still free.

They prefer Australia to Europe

Since Europe closed its borders, they can no longer get visas. Poverty and unemployment causes these young people to leave Algeria. Salim, 25, is not really a “haraga”. We met him in a café in the lower kasbah. He is tempted to leave the country although he earns a living working in markets in Algiers. “We are seven in a three-room apartment. I have no girl friend, no money to pay for any leisure activity, which is reserved for the rich. I was refused a visa to go to France, so I decided to leave.” Where are you going to? “To Australia. There, I’ll join some of the other guys from my neighborhood. They don’t want us in Europe.” Aware of the misfortune of the “haragas”, Salim is going to try crossing Morocco. “If it doesn’t work, at least I will have tried” he says. (1)

At the present time, although no one is able to figure out the importance of the phenomenon of the “haragas”, it starts worrying the authorities. Until then, candidates to immigration attempted to go through Morocco. But pressured by Europe, Morocco started to track down illegal immigrants, including young Moroccans, and young Algerians think twice before attempting the trip. The Algerian press reported some accounts of dozens of young Algerians expelled by the Moroccan authorities after having been imprisoned and submitted to physical abuse.

Author’s note:

(1) There are today more than 15,000 young Algerians who have emigrated to Australia.

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