Harraga – „Those, Who Burn“

After the introduction of the visa regime for Algerians by European countries, the military coup in Algeria in 1992 and the ensuing civil war, Algerian migrants went into hiding on cargo ships or oil tankers bound for the USA. In Algeria, these people are referred to as Harraga.

“The term Harraga is from the Arabic حراقة, DMG ḥarrāqa ‘ and means “(to) burn”. Harraga – those who “burn borders” – is also used to describe North African migrants trying to immigrate to mainland Europe or European islands.”

As more and more undocumented Algerians were arrested in U.S. ports the U.S. put pressure on Algerian authorities to secure their cargo and oil ports. Surveillance cameras were set up, walls and fences were erected, and security guards were hired. From the early 2000s on, Algeria’s ports have been considered hermetically sealed.

As a result of these measures, Harraga migration to Europe has increased. In 2004, Algerians increasingly began crossing the Mediterranean by boat into Spain and Italy. Until the de facto closure of the Moroccan-Algerian border, they also entered the EU through Morocco. Many Algerians also flew to Turkey, given the visa requirements that were less restrictive, to subsequently reach Europe via the Balkan route. In 2019, however, Turkey tightened visa requirements for Algerians between the ages of 18 and 35, making it significantly more difficult for them to access this route. Nevertheless, Algerians have still been among the most frequently counted nationalities in Bosnia since 2017.

Reasons for Migration of Young Algerians

Under economic pressure due to high youth unemployment rates and a general lack of prospects, many young people still set out – despite harsh difficulties and without their families – to build a life in Europe. For Algerian Harraga, political, family and cultural aspects, as well as increasing jihadist terror, also play a significant role in the decision to leave their home country.

The shattered dream of the Arab Spring robbed a young society of any hope of a possibility to continue life in their country of origin without severe restrictions on political freedoms and great familial and religious pressures.

Flight as a crime

There is a division in Algeria between a country steeped in religion and tradition and the younger generations who are striving for other ways of life. This dichotomy leads members of the young society to set off toward France. Due to years of colonial rule, much of the Algerian population already speaks French, making the country an opportune destination.

Most Algerian Harraga have unsuccessfully attempted to apply for Schengen visas numerous times before choosing to cross into Europe via the Mediterranean or the Balkan route. Those that do attempt to leave the country be these means make themselves liable to prosecution in Algeria and to imprisonment for two to six months.

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A film by Frédéric de La Houssaye

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