The story of Daniel, an immigrant from the Ivory Coast in Algeria | Yassin Temlali
The story of Daniel, an immigrant from the Ivory Coast in Algeria Print
Yassin Temlali   
The story of Daniel, an immigrant from the Ivory Coast in Algeria | Yassin Temlali He left the Ivory Coast in September 2003. He crossed all of Burkina Faso, from South to North, before ending up in Niger. In Niamey, he met a fellow countryman who convinced him to go to Libya. Libya is richer, he said, and there is a lot of work there. Like Algeria, he did not know this other North African country. He knew only that at night, small crafts filled with illegal emigrants crossed the Mediterranean bound for shores of the White continent.

At Arlit, in the Aïr, he and other young Africans from various nationalities hired the services of a smuggler. To reach the Libyan border, one had to travel for seven days, in this land of thirst that is the Ténéré desert. They spent two nights in a Tuareg village, which he still doesn’t know if it is in Libya or Niger. They each paid ten Libyan dinars to a Tuareg guide who was supposed to take them North through the desert on foot.

But as soon as they left the village, they were surrounded by a group of Tuaregs armed with knives. The assailants put them face down on the ground and, one after the other meticulously robbed them of their money. He managed to hide his in the sand. Once the masked bandits had left with their prize, the guide, who had disappeared during the scuffle, showed up again. He was most probably in on it, thought Daniel, informed on his misfortune by the tales of similar aggressions.

The walking caravan resumed its march but he had to go back to where the attack happened to get his money. He found it, only now, he was alone. He walked, following the trail of footsteps indicating a fresh passage but when the trail miraculously vanished in the dust, he felt lost. He was scared. It was the first time he found himself far from his family, without a living soul nearby but from the birds of prey dwelling in the wide mountainous cracks. On his way, he swears it, he saw human bones. Enough to pass out with fear. The white and fleshless remains of illegal emigrants dead of thirst and exhaustion without anyone to hear their last will.

Djanet, raids and xenophobic gibes
He spent the night in a cave, like a hunted beast. On the second morning of his roaming, he started marching again for hours. And, like the joy signalling the end of his ordeal through dunes and rock, under the deadly Sub-Saharan autumn sun, he heard a familiar voice, the voice of the muezzin. And this voice that filled the sky boosted his spirits. It was 7 pm and he was worn out. He dragged himself towards the city lights he could see sparkling in the distance.
He moved on with difficulty and, by chance, none of the people in front of the cafés saw him staggering by. He learned that he was in Djanet, Algeria, not Libya from a group from Niger he met on the street. It is from them that he learned that the mountain he saw from the road, was a mountain range called the Tassili. They weren’t surprised to hear his story. They had already heard similarly terrifying ones. One of these Nigerians, a respected elder, took pity on him and welcomed him like you take in an orphan. He ran a fever from the several days walk.

Once he had recovered, he thanks his benefactor and started looking for work. He found some in a quarry, in a suburban neighbourhood called Ifri. He had to chip rocks from seven in the morning to four in the afternoon for 400 dinars a day. In the Ivory Coast, he had only ever done odd jobs to earn his pocket money. The workers, most of which illegal like him, lived nearby, in a basic house made of raw cement bricks. The police made frequent raids in the neighbourhood and sometimes, in the quarry to nab the slower ones. He almost got caught once. He was saved by a young man from Niger who saw the police arrive and told him to hide just in time.

And during his plodding stay in Djanet, he would see other Africans arrive, who surely also almost fainted when they saw the human remains on the dusty road. Like him, they stopped in this town to earn enough money to continue their clandestine voyage north, where they would work while searching for a way to get into Europe. The story of Daniel, an immigrant from the Ivory Coast in Algeria | Yassin Temlali Algiers, life between dorm rooms and building sites
In Djanet, he was often sick. He couldn’t take the freezing cold of the Sub-Saharan nights, in his makeshift dorm room, he who had always lived in the Ivory Coast, in a fishing village. Life in Algeria was so different than life in his home country. You were not allowed, for instance, to look at a woman in the street: he would never understand that.

He recalls that many Algerians were quite spiteful with immigrants like him, that they called “Africans”, as if Algeria was in America. And surprisingly, some were Black, like him! Like him, they were collared by the police and were only set free once they had shown their identity papers. They must have been furious to be mistaken for illegal undesirables, simply due to the colour of their skin. White Tuaregs probably treated them with contempt, he thought. That is why they turn their anger towards Black immigrants for being diminished in such a way in their own country.

After a few months of playing cat and mouse with the police, it was time for him to leave Djanet. To reach Ouargla, 1100 km to the North-West, one had to dress like a Tuareg and, moreover, hire the services of a driver who knew how to avoid police roadblocks or fool their vigilance. At the bus station in Ouargla, he was asked to show a proper passport in order to buy a ticket for the capital. They did not want any problems with the police. A counterfeiter gave him, for 7000 dinars, a fake passport: from now on, he is Malian. Another forger, for 1000 dinars, stamped his passport with the stamp of the Border Police. It looked like the real thing. Police officers who will check him on the road to Algiers won’t notice a thing.

He remembers getting to Algiers in March 2003. He spent two nights sleeping under the stars, down from Bab El Oued, on a desert beach. He finally learned that in the Old City, the Casbah, were hostels where you could spend the night for 100 dinars. He set himself up in one of these hostels. He looked for a job for eleven days. In the end, he found work as an unskilled labourer, in Bois des Cars, a rich neighbourhood, where, each month, new villas flourished, each more luxurious than the next. During his stay in the White city, for 400 to 500 dinars a day, he worked here and there on building sites in new neighbourhoods. He worked as painter, unskilled labourer… He even found he was quite a good gardener.

The Africa of aids and civil war
His employers were not all what he would call ‘proper people’. Some treated him like a machine. During the lunch break, as he’d just taken the first bite of his sandwich, they would hurry him to get back to work because, as they said, the work can’t wait. For them, illegal immigrants were just raw muscle force, expendable at will. And when these newly rich people, pompous and rude, would deign ‘talk’ to them, it was always about the civil war and aids in Africa. But what could he do against those looks that were only fear and contempt? He had to take in the sick hints and near-chauvinistic remarks. He was there to earn a living.

And during the nine months he stayed in Algiers, his European dream slowly began to evaporate. He couldn’t get a regular visa and from Algiers, it was difficult to go directly across the Mediterranean. The harraga, Algerian illegal migrants did try their luck by hiding in the holds of cargo ships bound for Marseille. But a Black African couldn’t do the same; that network was reserved to indigenous people who could access the port area more easily. One solution was to go completely to the West, at the Moroccan border. From there, one could apparently go to Morocco, even though the border had been closed for more than a decade. He had heard that the most persevering always ended up on Spanish territory and that once there, they could not be expelled.

But in Algiers, you need to work hard to live. Life is expensive and the daily salary of an illegal immigrant is just about enough for food and shelter. How can one save enough money for such an expensive trip when the daily pay is 400 to 500 dinars? Many immigrants eventually give up going to Europe. Their presence in Algerie, supposed to be only temporary, drags out. Some had been living there for years. Others were waiting, resigned, to be expelled.

And he will be expelled. Twice, not once. Expulsion is an experience that he wishes to no one, not even to his worse enemy. All hope collapses, the Earth stops spinning. You remember the long trip until Algiers, the wandering in the desert and the long work days under the sun, in the quarry. It gives you goose bumps just to think of the 2500 kilometres separating the far North from the far South.

The first time, he was arrested in the Casbah. It was in December 2004. In the police station, officers easily confirmed that the Border Police stamp on his passport was a fake. The tribunal of Bab El Oued ordered his expulsion to Mali, along with about 30 other illegal immigrants. At police headquarters, his mug shots were taken and his prints recorded. From now on, they had a file on him. Three days later, the soon-to-be expelled were transferred to Blida, some 40 kilometres from the capital. They spent two nights in cells in a police station before embarking for the South.

The more the convoy travelled south, the worse the quality of the food got. At In Salah, some 1000 kilometres from the Malian border, the menu consisted of bread and milk. But the quality of police treatment, however, was getting better. In cities up North, some police officers did propose to buy cigarettes for the immigrants, but many of them, less charitable, robbed them of their euros on the pretext that they were fake bills. In the South, he was asked kindly if he wanted to sell his Nokia before leaving Algerian territory. They should have known that it was with the money from the mobile that he would try to come back again.

“Walk straight ahead, you are in Mali!”
The longest stage of this terrible reversed trek was at In Salah. In this city, he stayed one month in a grouping centre waiting, they were told, that a large convoy of expelled people be organised towards Malian borders. At last, the convoy rattled into motion towards Tamanrasset, some 600 kilometres aways. In Tam, the immigrants spent three days in a police station before being taken to Tinzaouatine.

He didn’t know that the expulsion itself would be so prompt. They were thrown out of the village limits, behind the hypothetical border and were told: “Walk straight ahead, you are in Mali.” As soon as the police had their backs turned, he and others as tenacious as him circled back towards Tinzaouatine. Those whose dreams of immigration had definitely evaporated in Algeria headed South. They didn’t want to hear about Europe anymore.

Back in Tinzaouatine, he and other illegal immigrants paid 2500 dinars each to a Tuareg driver to take them 400 kilometres back up to Tamanrasset. In Tam, he worked for two months on a building site. He bought a Malian passport for 2500 dinars and a bus ticket to In Salah. Three days later, he was back in Algiers. He returned to his 100-dinar-a-night hostel and started looking for work. He wanted to earn just enough to pass illegally into Morocco, then into Spain.

But this second Algerian stay will be very short, two months, as he will be arrested a second time. The police had raided an Internet café in the Casbah where they believed illegal immigrants were forging documents. And he was there. He was convicted and got two months imprisonment as well as an expulsion order towards Mali. He was locked up in the El Harrach prison. The promiscuity was unbearable, 60 inmates per cell, but he was genuinely surprised at the guards’ proper manners towards Africans. They allowed cell-to-cell visits. The prison experience did not traumatise him and he is happy about it.

After doing his time, he was expelled. The same winding path in the North, straight and boring in the South. Blida, Médéa, Djelfa, Laghouat, Ghardaïa; the same long and lazy wait in In Salah and the sinister convoy bound for Tamanrasset and Tinzaouatine. Once he was through the border, he went all the way to Kidal, in Malian-Tuareg country. There, with the help of a smuggler, he found himself at Bordj Badji Mokhtar, some 300 kilometres North, in Algeria. He’ll stay in the small border town almost five months.

We didn’t really want to go back North. He didn’t want to repeat the prison experience, the expulsion and the countless humiliations. Besides, he thought, he made as much money in his little brick factory as he did in Algiers and he was spending much less. But what would they think of him in his village? That he crossed the Sahel to end up in sad little town in the Algerian desert, so far from Europe? The drive to ‘success’ was stronger than the possibility of a quiet little life in Bordj, forgotten city, so far from the Mediterranean. He decided to go back to Algiers. The story of Daniel, an immigrant from the Ivory Coast in Algeria | Yassin Temlali A little dream from the Ivory Coast
When he arrived in the capital, he read the newspapers, which he seldom read in Bordj. He discovered that, for weeks, dozens of Algerian immigrants, the harraga, had drowned or had been saved half-dead from the sea, while trying to land somewhere in Spain or Sardinia. It had become difficult to go to Europe, almost impossible from Algeria. You could lose your life and he valued his. He decided to forget about Morocco. Even if he should one day try again to join his brother, he would do it from another country.

He has been in Algiers for five months. He lives, with other Africans, in an abandoned house in Dély Brahim, in a western suburb. He tries as best he can not to come across the police. He keeps a low profile. He filed an asylum request at the High Commissioner for Refugees. He knows that an asylum request is, legally, a temporary protection again expulsion, but he has no illusions about the respect of the law in police stations. Several immigrants with refugee status were expelled at the same time he was. They were allowed no special treatment.

He lived in Algiers several months but he doesn’t know the city. She intimidates him. He only knows the places where he worked: Chevalley, Cheraga, Bouchaoui… Don’t ask him about the city centre, he only knows the Place du 1er mai. He never set foot in rue Didouche, except once to look for the Protestant church because he wanted to go to the Dominican mass. When he’s not working he goes to the Internet café to check his mail or watch a film. It’s less dangerous than wandering around neighbourhoods he doesn’t know well, where the police could at any time send him back to the nightmare of Tinzaouatine.

In the street, he feels vaguely unwanted. Even when he hears no gibes or derogatory remarks, something in the looks that meet his eye seems hostile to him. He thinks that if illegal immigrants are not well accepted, it’s also due to journalists. Not only do the newspapers only ever talk of African illegal immigrants as ‘aid-ridden’ or ‘counterfeiters’, but in addition, they do their best to expose their little tricks to survive.

In Algiers, there are café terraces where he never sat, cinemas that he’s never been to. He doesn’t regret it. He’s not here to go to the cinema or kill time watching passers-by. He is really starting to miss his family a great deal now, more than ever. Back home, in his village, there are a lot of houses on stilts, lagoons and the climate is so pleasant. There’s no place like home, he thinks to himself. Algeria isn’t a country where it is nice to live for an illegal immigrant. He left his own country for money and what he makes here is ridiculous. And when it’s raining and the building sites stops, sometimes he doesn’t even have enough to buy food.

He’s tired of the wandering, of the instability. He wants to go back to the Ivory Coast. Algeria, he could bear it only if he earned as much money as he would in Europe. He’s surviving in it, while waiting to be expulsed. He hopes it won’t happen too soon. He needs to gather a bit of money before heading back home. His mother is a housewife and his father receives a small pension from the Postal service. He got older since he left them. He is 23 and no one would understand that he could be supported financially by his parents. When he’ll be in the Ivory Coast, he’ll start a small business with the money he hopes to make here. He doesn’t want to work for others anymore. He did enough of that in Algeria.

Yassin Temlali
(03/05/2007)
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