Algeria, land of e(im)migration

Algeria is currently the richest state of the Maghreb and the second richest state of Africa following South Africa. Its GDP (Gross Domestic Profit) does not cease to increase since the early 2000’s after a disastrous decade in the 1990’s during which Algeria was on the brink of cessation of payment of its debts.

Even if Algeria is wealthy, it continues to be the country of emigration it already was in the beginning of the 20th Century when colonisation encouraged native Algerians to a massive exodus towards France.

The apparent paradox can be explained by the fact that the Algerian economy’s growth still depends on the income from gas and oil taxes. The contribution of other sectors than hydrocarbons – and the construction and public works sector boosted by an ambitious program of major projects – to the GDP does not improve significantly. Compared to the country’s enormous financial resources (foreign exchange reserves amounting to 148,9 billion dollars at the end of 2009), unemployment remains very high. It exceeds by far the levels announced by the National Statistics Office i.e. 10.2% at the end of 2009 (1).

The inability to transform the current growth of GDP to a sustainable growth explains the sense of economic insecurity, which still encourages Algerians to massively leave their country. Migration flows to other countries can also be explained by other reasons, such as political instability and the diminution of both public and individual freedoms as well.

The number of Algerian expats: figures multiplied by six according to sources
The General Census of Population and Housing data of 2008 on migratory movements have not been made public yet except those related to foreign residents in the Algerian territory.

The data available on Algerian emigration is not exhaustive. They neither take into account the existence of irregular migration nor the fact that many immigrants do not register at the Algerian consulates.

In December 2008, Djamel Ould Abbas, “Minister of National Solidarity and of the National Community Abroad”, declared that there are 7 million Algerians living away from the national territory (the francophone daily newspaper “El Watan”, 14th December 2008). This figure seems unbelievable: it is seven times the 1.3 million put forward by other official sources quoted by Mohamed Saïb Musette, migration issues expert at the Centre for Applied Economic Research in Development (2).

Algeria, land of e(im)migration
The actor Kaddour Merad, son of an Algerian immigrant in France
France, Algerian expats’ principal host country
If Moroccan emigration is broadly spread in Europe, the Algerian one is mainly concentrated in France (3). 85% of Algerian expatriates live on French territory and 8% in other European states, with a certain concentration in Spain and Italy (4).

It is important to highlight the fact that many Algerian who have settled in France, are bi-nationals and this probably explains the enormous difference between the Algerian statistics (1.3 million) and the French ones (477,000, according to the already quoted study conducted by Mohamed Saïb Musette).

This document also reveals that 3% of Algerian expatriates live in one of the Maghreb States and 2% in North America. Only 1% lives in the Near East and in the African Continent. The report of Hocine Khelfaoui (5) estimated the number of expats in North America to be between 40,000 and 60,000 persons. One third of them live in the United States while two thirds reside in Canada, mainly in the francophone province of Québec.

The host countries of Algerian expatriates are more diverse than in the past. During the 2007 legislative elections, the numbers of registered voters in Western European states and in the Maghreb were as follows: 19,997 in Britain, 14,000 in Spain, 11,284 in Morocco, 12,000 in Tunisia, 5,000 in Italy, 2,000 in Egypt (the French daily newspaper “La Tribune”, 13th May 2007).

What about irregular emigration?
The number of Algerians living abroad irregularly can be only estimated. They are valued at 3% of the total number of emigrants, i.e. 40,000 persons (6). In fact, the only official figures are those calculating expulsion operations and administrative detention carried out by the police of host states (7).

Algeria, land of e(im)migration
Documentary of Annika Lems and Christine Moderbacher
According to Mohamed Saïb Musette, exceeding the duration of legal residence was the primary reason explaining irregular migration. Currently, irregular immigrants are also “harragas” (8) arriving by sea on Spanish and Italian shores. It is difficult to have an accurate number of these “harragas” since the government always tries to minimise the extent of this strange exodus. Nonetheless, the number of interceptions at sea gives an approximate idea. The data provided by the Algerian coast-guards reports a number of 336 arrests in 2005, 1016 in 2006 and 1335 in 2008. They also report the death of 232 migrants at sea and the disappearance of another 99 between 2006 and 2008 (9).

In order to discourage young Algerians to leave the country illegally, justice uses very hard measures. In the absence of specific articles of the law to charge them, she has often judged and sentenced them for “breaching of the Maritime Code”! Since the beginning of 2009, the Penal Code includes a new offense, the act of leaving the national territory illegally. This act is punished by 2 to 6 months of imprisonment and a fine that can amount from 20,000 to 60,000 Algerian dinars (200 to 600 Euros).

Algeria: an immigration country?
If, despite the improvement of its financial conditions, Algeria remains a country of emigration, it is being transformed, slowly but surely, in a host country for immigrants. The General Census of Population and Housing of 2008 reports that the number of foreigners living legally is 95,000 i.e. 0.3% of the country’s total population.

These figures neither include refugees (mainly Saharawis living in the camps of the Tindouf region situated in the extreme Southwest) nor, obviously, irregular immigrants, coming mainly from African Sub-Saharan States as it was indicated in a study conducted in 2005 for the International Committee for Solidarity between Peoples (10). If the two categories were taken into account, the number of foreigners residing on the Algerian territory would amount to 325,000 persons for a population of 34,8 millions (2008).

The transformation of Algeria in an immigration country is proven by figures published in the daily newspaper “El Watan” on the 26th of April 2009. In 1999, the National Agency for Labour (ANEM) has identified 1,000 foreign workers. They are currently 32,000, of which 40% of Chinese employees in Chinese companies active in public works, oil and construction.

There are no official statistics on illegal immigration, except those counting the arrests of illegal immigrants. In an article published on the Babelmed website (11), the researcher Mohamed Saïb Musette notes that these arrests are increasing, going from 6,988 in 2007 up to 7,824 in 2008 (figures for 2009 are not available yet).

The above-mentioned CISP survey is one of the rare having estimated the number of irregular immigrants living on Algerian land. Conducted on a sample of 2,000 persons, it estimated them to amount to 26,000 (against 40,000 in 2003 according to a similar survey carried out by the same NGO). This figure was more plausible as it matched the one given by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (HCR) at the same time (21,500). The difference between the two is due to the fact that the UN agency’s data did not include refugees of nationalities other than African.

In the CISP report we read that for 40% of this immigrant population Algeria is the final destination. For another 40% Algeria is just a stepping-stone to Europe. The remaining 20% present various situations (immigrants who don’t afford returning to their country, refugees, etc.).

Algeria, land of e(im)migration Harsh repression of irregular immigration
The transformation of Algeria into a host country seems to scare the authorities. They have been motivated to amend a law dating to the 21st of July 1966 “on the conditions of entry, stay and movement of foreigners in the country”. The amendments have aligned this text with the migration laws of Tunisia and Morocco. They have given the final blow to Algeria’s reputation as a “land of asylum” for refugees if all conditions. Since then, irregular immigration and any act facilitating it (transportation, accommodation, employment, etc.) have been harshly punished.
These amendments have provided the Department of the Interior and walis (prefects) with broad powers in matters of expulsion and administrative detention of irregular immigrants. In the government’s discourse, they are justified by security needs (struggle against terrorism and organised crime). Any marriage taking place in order to obtain a legal residence permit is also penalised.
Yassine Temlali
Translated into English by Elizabeth Grech
May 2010

1) An anonymous government source quoted by the Algerian press, estimated the unemployment rate to 35%. It precises that many unemployed have irregular and informal remunerated activities.
2) This study is entitled: “Algeria: migration, labour market and development”. It is available online on the International Labour Organisation’s website ( ).
3) Algerian emigration is the oldest emigration in the Maghreb and one of the oldest Mediterranean emigrations.
4) Idem.
5) Published in 2006, this report is entitled: “The Algerian Diaspora in North America: a resource for their country of origin?” It’s available on: ( ).
6) See “Algeria: migration, labour market and development” ( ).
7) According to the report entitled “Harga or the current form of Algerian irregular emigration” (written by Hocine Labdelaoui, university professor in Algiers, and published in the framework of a “program of applied research on international migration”), 10,921 Algerian immigrant expulsions took place between 2005 and the 30th August 2007. The Algerian police has given these figures. The report is available on: ( ).
8) “Harragas” literally means “burners”.
9) “Harga or the current form of Algerian irregular emigration” (already quoted document).
10) CISP is an Italian NGO in Algeria.
11) “Irregular migration towards Algeria: some recent development”, Babelmed, 26th October 2009.

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