Algeria is planning to grant legal status to undocumented black African migrants in a bid to respond to labor shortages, but also to tackle a spreading racist campaign in the north African nation.
Prime Minister Abdelmadjid Tebboune said that the ministry of interior was conducting a census to screen the migrants, after which they will be granted residency rights and job permits, according to Reuters. Tebboune was responding to recent social media and mainstream press campaigns that labeled the mostly black migrants as a “menace,” and blamed them for raping women and spreading HIV.
Tebboune also said that Algeria had a “moral and human duty” to assist Africans who had fled war and poverty from their countries. “We are not racists, we are Africans, Maghreb, and Mediterranean,” Tebboune said, according to HuffPost Algeria.
Algeria has become a major transit point for migrants from Mali, Niger, Gambia, and Burkina Faso, who are hoping to sneak to Europe via Libya or attempting to cross into Spain from Morocco by daring the waters of the Mediterranean. But as far back as 2008, the country’s relative stability, oil wealth, and booming economy also attracted migrants, with tens of thousands staying to get employment opportunities. The immigrants did all sorts of menial jobs and worked in construction and farming projects—a fact that didn’t endear them to many unemployed Algerians who thought they were muscling in on a crowded market.
Youth unemployment has proved difficult to tackle in Algeria, despite years of sustained growth in the country. Algerian rates for youth participation in the economy is low, and the government has failed to create programs ($) that would generate jobs for masses of young people. Nevertheless, chronic shortages of skilled labor still exist in the construction industry with businesses facing difficulties finding skilled plumbers, electricians, and carpenters. Oil companies also have challenges retaining engineers and field workers who leave the country for greener pastures in the Middle East.
African immigrants are also vulnerable to physical assaults, sexual violence, xenophobia, and theft, according to Amnesty International. The government has raided neighborhoods in the capital where migrants live, with mass arrests last year labeled as “the largest hunting down of black men since Algeria’s independence.” In June, the hashtag “No to Africans in Algeria” was used to call immigrants a “menace” that was putting the lives of Algerians and their children “in danger.”