8 February 2013

North Africa: African Cup Tempts Maghreb Harragas

Rustenburg — Scores of young Maghreb residents are in South Africa for CAN, but not all of them are there for football.

When Nigeria's Super Eagles face the Burkinabe Stallions for the African Cup of Nations on Sunday (February 11th), five young Maghreb football fans will be among some 90,000 people in the Soweto stadium.

Even though the last Maghreb team - the Carthage Eagles - exited January 30th, many Tunisians, Moroccans and Algerians stayed around to enjoy the final.

Ahmed, Karim, Omar, Samir and Mohamed intend to stay forever.

"I borrowed money from my family and made them believe I wanted to support the Algeria team in South Africa. That was enough to convince them. So, I paid the required amount to the travel agency that got me the visa, the airplane and the match tickets," Ahmed said

"The travel agency wanted to retain my passport for fear that I would escape in South Africa," he added. "I paid them extra and kept my passport."

His friend Karim said, "The sum we have paid is not a problem for us, because I will pay back my debt to each lender once I find work and settle down."

Of the 2,000 or so other Algerians who made the pricey trek to South Africa - most of them in their teens and twenties - some are determined to join the ranks of the harragas.

Samir, Ahmed, Karim, Omar and Mohamed seized the Greens' appearance at CAN as an excuse to get visas and stay in South Africa.

According to psychologist Nourredine Khaled, illegal migration is another form of "anti-establishment" behaviour that stems from not having the opportunity to integrate into society.

"To argue that illegal migration is an act of despair is to oversimplify a complex phenomenon," he stressed.

"We think that for these young people, it is one of the few options open to them if they want to build identities for themselves and try to become men. This is why it is not a destructive movement despite the risk of death that awaits them, but rather an extreme method of self-actualisation," Khaled said.

Most harragas are aged between 14 and 26, said Khaled, who conducted a survey on the subject for Algeria's Association for Psychological Support and Research (SARP). And almost all illegal immigrants are male.

Anticipating attempts by fans to stay on after African Cup of Nations, the South African Embassy in Algeria required visitors to deposit 1,400 euros with the consulate as collateral to be recovered upon returning from the Orange CAN event.

The new Maghreb harragas, however, were ready to forfeit the security deposit. They see the dangerous move into the world of illegal immigration as their only option.

After heightened maritime surveillance, Euro-Maghreb co-operation initiatives and stricter controls made chances to reach Europe unlikely, young Africans began considering illegal immigration within the continent's borders.

South Africa is not the only destination, nor are Algerians the only ones on the move.

A startling report release three months ago showed that for the first time, the number of Moroccans arrested in Algeria for illegal immigration surpassed the number of Nigeriens and Malians.

But for young Maghreb residents, the football event in South Africa was the moment to act.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, an Algerian embassy official in Johannesburg said: "Unfortunately, some young men take advantage of these sport meets to emigrate. They have no idea of the risks they face."

"We are doing everything we can to sensitise them and dissuade them from the idea, but we could never watch over all of them. They are scattered in many areas. We try to lodge them in one place. Yet sometimes, and in a moment of inattention, they escape towards unknown destinations," he said.

"We have received strict instructions to block all immigration attempts and we have dedicated buses for the fans to transport them during the games and then take them back to their residence in Pretoria," the diplomatic source told Magharebia.

South Africa is home to some 2,000 Algerians, mainly from the Kabylie region. Many wish they had never left home.

"I am sad because I went through rough times and I do not want the fans coming from Algeria to endure the same ordeal I did," said Samir, an Algerian immigrant now residing in Durban.

His friend Omar has his own deadly harraga tale.

"Divine providence saved me from death. I came under fire from criminals in the shop where I used to work. I saw two of my colleagues drenched in their own blood. It was awful and I have still not recovered from that nightmare," he said.

"It is true that young people are suffering in our country, but I advise them to stay there. While many things are available in the land of exile, I still miss my country and my family a lot, as I rarely visit," Omar added.

Young people risk everything to get away from home, "even if it's to a dangerous country", said journalist Oualid Hamdadou. "They're enchanted by what they see at first, but with time, they will discover the contrary."

"These young people are unaware of the difficulties that await them in South Africa," said Samir Hamza, a writer for Algerian daily Echourouk.

"Even if their dream of a decent life is valid, they are putting themselves at risk."

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