When another caravan of African migrants died this month, lost and scorched under the Saharan sun, the Algerian press responded not with sympathy but with a vituperative round of racist fearmongering, writes Abed Charef in Maghreb Emergent.
Nigeriens, Malians, Syrians-Algeria is being invaded from all directions. That at least is what you would think from reading the front pages of the press in recent days. What we are seeing is the brutal surfacing of hidden undercurrent of racism.
The daily Echourouk launched another controversy when it baldly ran a front page article on the diseases and social ills that sub-Saharan migrants supposedly carry into Algeria. Echourouk was merely copying a topic that just the day before had been on the front page of Algerie News, which had complained about Algeria being invaded by Nigeriens. Simultaneously, the social networks were flying with rumors that the newly appointed education minister, Nouria Benghberit, had Jewish origins.
Echourouk has a history of launching similar crusades in the past, against Shi’ites, Christians, atheists and others, and making a very lucrative business out of them. On Monday, the daily’s front page was dominated by a picture of a group of African me, and the headline ‘Ten Dangerous Diseases Invading Our Streets.’
Inside, the subheads read: ‘Africans are transmitting the most dangerous diseases in the world to Algerians: AIDS, malaria, and Ebola,’ and then ‘Nine thousand illegal immigrants have crossed our borders, taking advantage of the lenience of authorities here.’ The newspaper told readers that ‘caravans of Malian and Nigerien tribesmen are invading all of Algeria’s provinces. No longer content with settling in the southern provinces, they are now flooding toward the north, bringing numerous threats with them.’
The usual stereotypes follow, from African beggars to the crime waves that accompany every article about foreigners, and especially about illegal immigrants. The newspaper also claims that in 90 percent of cases, the nationality of migrants is African’!
Just ordinary racism. It appears that this round of hysteria was launched by Algerie News, with its article proclaiming that “After the Malians and the Syrians, now it is the turn of the Nigeriens to invade Algeria!” That article tried to stir up a public outcry with its claim that “Algerians are helpless in the face of the floods of pariahs coming in from Sub-Saharan Africa and Syria.”
Algierie News’ editor ended up publishing an apology to his readers for the tone and content of that article. But the apology failed to conceal the unpleasant reality that for the most part, articles by local correspondents in our press about immigrants are filled with racism toward sub-Saharan Africans.
It is the same story over in Morocco, another country of transit for migrants where sub-Saharan nationals are treated to violent racism. At one point there was something of a scandal when the governments of Algeria and Morocco both accused each other of dumping migrants across one another’s borders; these were migrants who were just passing through, with no intention of settling in either country.
In Algeria, sub-Saharan migrants tend to establish themselves on the outskirts of the bigger cities while awaiting an opportunity to head on to Europe; places where there is a lot of intolerance among local people who are living their own difficult lives. The migrants rarely complain, simply swallowing and accepting the racial slurs and humiliations dealt out to them every day.
This new wave of racist articles in the press is all the more shocking, coming as it does just days after the awful tragedy in the desert, where 46 Nigerien migrants trying to reach northern Algeria died of thirst and exhaustion in the desert. The bodies of thirteen of them have been found, and the search is continuing for the remaining 33.
A disaster which made the front pages but provoked a flood of racist insults on the social networks.
Translated from French by International Boulevard.
27 May 2014