Migrants in Algeria: interview with the human rights activist Fouad Hassam  | Ghania Khelifi, Elizabeth Grech, Fouad Hassam, Human Rights, sub-Saharan migrants, Migration in Algeria, SNAPAP
Migrants in Algeria: interview with the human rights activist Fouad Hassam Print
Ghania Khelifi   

Member of the National Autonomous Union of Public Administration Staff (SNAPAP) and a human rights activist, Fouad Hassam is always present in the struggles and protest for rights. The arrests, the bans he suffers from the authorities have failed to silence him. Recently, on the 12th July 2012, while he was going to Tunisia to attend the World Social Forum, he was stopped at the border by the Algerian border police on the grounds that in being an official civil servant, his leave has to be approved by the administration. These hassles do not prevent him from continuing to denounce violations of human rights in Algeria, including those against sub-Saharan migrants. We asked him to give us an update on the situation.

 

Migrants in Algeria: interview with the human rights activist Fouad Hassam  | Ghania Khelifi, Elizabeth Grech, Fouad Hassam, Human Rights, sub-Saharan migrants, Migration in Algeria, SNAPAP

 

Sub-Saharan migrants are arrested every day and from time to time, the police forces launch campaigns of mass arrests in the cities. Very often, we are not informed of such mass arrests. Others go unnoticed. There is not a single day where the court of Oran (western Algeria's capital) does not program a trial for the crime of illegal immigration.

There are no detention centres or open centres. It is true that the law 08-11 of 2008 evokes opening of the detention centres for foreigners in the process of expulsion or those to be turned back, and the wali of the wilaya (prefect and prefecture) has the power to open such a centre. In reality, the arrested migrants (especially those who are black) are imprisoned with common criminals. In the south of Algeria, at Ain-Salah, condemned to deportation to Mali and Nigeria, they are crammed into a centre that is actually an annex of the police of this city. Serious migrants’ rights violations are committed, and even worse, they can be subjected to torture and nobody can do anything.

 

Migrants in Algeria: interview with the human rights activist Fouad Hassam  | Ghania Khelifi, Elizabeth Grech, Fouad Hassam, Human Rights, sub-Saharan migrants, Migration in Algeria, SNAPAP

 

A few months ago, the human rights official Farouk Ksentini (lawyer and president of the National Consultative Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights (CNCPPDH), an organisation that is under the control of the Republic’s Presidency) had declared that before the end of 2012, he would present a report on the situation of sub-Saharan migration to the President of the Republic. He also stated that he would advocate the opening of an open centre for the respect of migrants’ rights. This was just after the influx of refugees fleeing insecurity in northern Mali

The centre would normally be located in the north of the country and open to NGOs. It would be managed by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) such as the Red Crescent and not by the police forces. The police will only be there to respond to conflicts and will not intervene in any way without the approval of the centre’s managers. This is already the case in the refugee centre in Shusha (Eastern Tunisia) that I have visited. Its management is entrusted to the UNHCR (High Commissioner for Refugees) and other NGOs. The UNHCR team is made up of young people aged from 25 to 32. They are the ones who have the authority in the camp. The military are outside, they are invisible and provide security and nothing else. No service man enters if the camp’s director, an Indian young man does not allow them.

In Algeria the real problem lies in the absence of the rule of law. The deputies should normally be able to question the Presidency on these exceedances. They should pass laws that protect vulnerable populations, including migrants. But our MPs are illegitimate and only think of their benefits and the ones of their family members. What a pity. The worse thing is that there is a lot of money to make from the migratory movement in Algeria, and corrupt officials make small fortunes on the backs of poor sub-Saharan Africans.

 

Migrants in Algeria: interview with the human rights activist Fouad Hassam  | Ghania Khelifi, Elizabeth Grech, Fouad Hassam, Human Rights, sub-Saharan migrants, Migration in Algeria, SNAPAP

 

At Ain Salah, hungry migrants are forced to buy food at an unimaginable price at the grocery store owned by a policeman. We found too many abuses. We all remember this young woman, Joanna's mother, who after giving birth to her daughter in November 2011 was turned back 2300 km away in a cattle truck and stayed two months at Tinzaouatine in the cold nights and the heat of each day without money. She then returned to Oran to breastfeed her baby in the jails of the city police headquarters. Yet these migrants who are nearly all Christian, have incredible patience even against our brutality and our wickedness. I must say that I am fascinated by their trust in God and they make us doubt our own faith. I will continue to campaign to struggle for the respect of their human rights and I think that only journalists will remain their real lawyers.

 



Ghania Khelifi

Translated from French by Elizabeth Grech
18/09/2012