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Cablegate: The Harraga: Give Me Dignity or Give Me Death

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PP RUEHTRO
DE RUEHAS #0787/01 1950711
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 130711Z JUL 08
FM AMEMBASSY ALGIERS
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 6104
INFO RUEHFR/AMEMBASSY PARIS 2804
RUEHMD/AMEMBASSY MADRID 8993
RUEHRB/AMEMBASSY RABAT 2434
RUEHTU/AMEMBASSY TUNIS 7289
RUEHTRO/AMEMBASSY TRIPOLI
RUEHNK/AMEMBASSY NOUAKCHOTT 6454
RUEHNM/AMEMBASSY NIAMEY 1672
RUEHBP/AMEMBASSY BAMAKO 0632
RUEHCL/AMCONSUL CASABLANCA 3487
RHMFISS/HQ USEUCOM VAIHINGEN GE

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 ALGIERS 000787

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/13/2018
TAGS: PGOV ECON SOCI AG
SUBJECT: THE HARRAGA: GIVE ME DIGNITY OR GIVE ME DEATH

REF: 07 ALGIERS 1704

Classified By: CDA, a.i. Thomas F. Daughton; reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).

1. (U) SUMMARY: On the desolate beach of Sidi Salem, in the
eastern suburbs of Annaba, a dozen young Algerian males
alternate between kicking a soccer ball and working on
several small, unmarked wooden boats. Each week, several
boats leave from this beach, filled with a cross-section of
frustrated young Algeria -- doctors, lawyers, dropouts, the
unemployed. They set out across the open sea, usually 10 or
12 to a boat, armed with water, food, blankets, a small motor
and GPS tracking device, headed for the Italian islands of
Lampedusa, Sicily or Sardinia. They are the harraga --
literally, "one who burns" identity papers and vital
documents before departure -- and over 90 percent of them
will either die at sea, be arrested and detained indefinitely
in Tunisia or Libya, or be returned by the Algerian, French,
Spanish or Italian coast guards. Across the street from Sidi
Salem beach is a police precinct, whose officers idly watch
departure preparations knowing that they may be asked to
arrest these same harraga upon their return. The issue has
paralyzed the Algerian government, which vacillates between
criminalizing the activity by arresting returning harraga and
a more conciliatory approach by offering token financial
incentives tied to political support for President Abdelaziz
Bouteflika. Anything to make a highly unpopular and
emotional issue go away. But the problem is growing, and
hundreds of departures from Algeria's eastern and western
beaches each month no longer carry exclusively the poor,
under-educated, young male stereotype. The harraga have
become a fixture in the Algerian media, popular music and
daily conversation, a symptom of a society in which
entertainment is limited, the education system does not link
to the job market, and the doors of opportunity are closed
but to the well connected. END SUMMARY.

Should i stay or should i go
----------------------------

2. (U) Now that universities are out of session and the
summer season has arrived, newspaper reports throughout the
month of June were rife with stories about scores of dead or
arrested harraga. The June 15 edition of the French-language
daily Tout Sur l'Algerie featured 24 harraga who departed
from Oran and were promptly arrested by Algerian authorities
upon their return. The front page of the June 18 edition of
the French-language daily Le Jeune Independant told of a
larger boatload of some 150 clandestine immigrants en route
from Libya to Italy that was wrecked at sea, with over 40
dead. Of these, according to quoted survivors, at least 17
were Algerian. Although statistics are hard to verify, the
article cited Spanish and Italian authorities who stated that
roughly 16,500 clandestines attempted to arrive in Italy from
Algeria and Libya in 2007, with another 31,000 departures
from western Algeria bound for the Spanish coast. Last
November 11 the French-language daily El Watan corroborated
those figures, counting 12,753 migrants arriving in Sicily
during the first nine months of 2007, a 20-percent increase
over the previous year.

3. (U) During our April visit to the beach at Sidi Salem,
police officers standing in front of their precinct watched
harraga prepare for departure. "We are not the border
police," they told us, saying they would not interfere. A
look around revealed a soccer field littered with trash, a
trash heap and a mosque alongside public low- to
middle-income housing projects. xxxxxxxxxxxx pointed down the street from
the police station at two small, dingy cafes. Those cafes,
he told us, are where harraga gather to exchange information,
meet with departure organizers, and pay their way. xxxxxxxxxxxx
said that would-be harraga from all over Algeria know by word
of mouth to come to the cafes, where an "oral bulletin board"
exists of young men pooling resources, organizing departures
and coordinating basic supplies. He said that as much as USD
500 is generally required to start the process. xxxxxxxxxxxxis
all too familiar with these details: on the night of April
17, 2007, his son xxxxxxxxxxxx left and was never heard from
again. The next morning, a friend of xxxxxxxxxxxx visited and
dropped off his car keys, telling xxxxxxxxxxxx that his son had
left in a boat with nine other passengers, ranging in age
from 21 to 39. xxxxxxxxxxxx, the manager of the

Algiers 00000787 002 of 004


xxxxxxxxxxxx, and a university graduate with
computer skills.

Caught between hogra and harga
------------------------------

4. (U) On the western outskirts of Annaba lies the smaller
and more secluded beach of La Caroube. xxxxxxxxxxxx
sat idly with three friends on a concrete stoop, while
several old wooden fishing boats lay overturned on the sand
nearby. xxxxxxxxxxxx told us that last summer he set out in a boat
of 10 people, leaving Algerian territorial waters, which he
was quick to point out already represented a victory for him.
He and his shipmates followed the coastline to Tunisia and
prepared to cross to Sicily. The sea turned rough and they
were forced to turn back, at which point they were stopped by
the Algerian coast guard inside Algerian waters and sent
back.xxxxxxxxxxxx boat contained a mixed profile of passengers
old and young, including five university graduates and two
doctors. xxxxxxxxxxxx said most of his fellow harraga bring GPS
devices and do extensive research on weather conditions and
mapping the best routes. All of xxxxxxxxxxxx three friends said
they had also tried at least once to leave their country by
sea, a crossing they say can take anywhere from 12-48 hours
depending on the weather.

5. (U) Kamel Daoud, a retired attorney, is the president of
the Human Rights Information and Documentation Center (CCDH)
in Annaba, a legally recognized NGO that serves as an
informal gathering place for local groups that have been
unable to obtain legal status. He is also a member of the
Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights. One of the
unrecognized groups that meets at Daoud's center is the
Parents of Disappeared Harraga, an association of parents
from eastern Algeria who have been seeking assistance and
information from the government since the beginning of 2007.
Alongside xxxxxxxxxxxx, the organization is run by Boubakr
Sabouni, whose son Faycel, age 25, disappeared on May 24,
2007, when he left with six others in a small boat for Italy.
One survivor, 30-year-old Riad Haddef, was found alive by
the Tunisian coast guard on May 29 but died the following
day. His body was repatriated to Algeria, and according to
Sabouni, Tunisian authorities also found a small outboard
motor and three cell phones. According to Daoud, most
harraga bring GPS tracking devices, but believe the crossing
is deceptively easy because many of their parents and
parents' friends were a part of the region's once-vibrant
fishing industry. Sabouni and Belabed asserted that harraga
"always call home" upon arrival, without exception, meaning
no news is never good news -- either arrest or death.

6. (U) Loitering xxxxxxxxxxxx quickly listed the three reasons
Algerian youth want to burn (harga) their documents and
leave: hogra (humiliation), poverty and corruption. He and
his friends told us of police brutality and "profiling,"
whereby police harass and often brutalize groups of idle
young men who are simply minding their own business. "We
have no space to just hang out," xxxxxxxxxxxx said, "since
everywhere we go the doors are closed, even on the street or
in the park." Daoud explained that because Algeria still
lives under the 1992 state of emergency, the government
remains paranoid about freedom of association and the spectre
of criminal or terrorist activity carried out by young males.
xxxxxxxxxxxx could not remember a single case of a female
harraga, although xxxxxxxxxxxx on the beach said he had heard of
such a case "once." In a conversation with xxxxxxxxxxxx
xxxxxxxxxxxx, all three told us that Algerian parents who
fought to liberate the country from the French were now
"disillusioned" as a police force they helped build "to
protect the future of the country" was now antagonizing the
next generation.

7. (U) xxxxxxxxxxxx, a young attorney working with xxxxxxxxxxxx, told us the visa process to Europe and
specifically France was another source of hogra for young
Algerians. xxxxxxxxxxxx said he had applied several times for a
visa, xxxxxxxxxxxxx only to be
"systematically refused" by the French embassy in Algiers.
xxxxxxxxxxxx described the visa process as "cold," one in which
applicants often spend hours waiting only to see an
adjudication official very briefly. xxxxxxxxxxxx said he found an
open door through the U.S. International Visitor Program,
through which he gained international contacts, additional

Algiers 00000787 003 of 004


perspective and hope, all of which he was now trying to share
with xxxxxxxxxxxx and young legal students in Annaba. Meanwhile,
not even the most successful families are immune to the
harraga phenomenon: the grandson of former President Chadli
Bendjedid, 29 year-old Mourad Bendjedid, left on February 8,
2007 along with six other young men and has not been heard
from since.

A government out of touch
-------------------------

8. (C) Political xxxxxxxxxxxx told us on July 8
that the government simply does not know what to do about the
harraga, as evidenced by its wildly varied responses.
xxxxxxxxxxxx echoed this sentiment to us on June
30, saying the government was "well aware" of the public
passions that have been aroused by the harraga, and that the
issue had completely stymied the regime. Minister of
National Solidarity Djamel Ould Abbes, in a highly publicized
April visit to the coastal towns of Ain Temouchent and Tiaret
in western Algeria, gathered returned harraga in front of the
press and offered 400,000 dinar (approx USD 615) to each,
along with an offer to provide work. Ould Abbes' visit came
within a week after ten harraga died at sea, with bodies
washing up on the beaches nearby. Abbassa said that event
further inflamed public emotion and the government became
nervous, realizing it had to do something, but "had no idea
what that something was."

9. (C) xxxxxxxxxxxx on the beach of La Caroube, told us that Ould
Abbes' offer was "an insult," since at the end of the meeting
he asked all those assembled to sign a statement of support
for President Bouteflika. Daoud confirmed this and said that
the harraga did not sign. Instead, he said, they rallied and
encircled the house Ould Abbes was staying in, intending
perhaps to take him hostage. Daoud said that when the
minister got wind of this, he left Tiaret before dawn,
earlier than expected, and rushed back to Algiers. "We do
not want someone to throw money at us," xxxxxxxxxxxx said, "we want
opportunity." xxxxxxxxxxxx then said he would "sweep this beach"
if someone gave him a broom and a modest salary. Instead, he
and his friends agreed that the best thing to do with Ould
Abbes' 400,000 dinar was "to buy a better boat."

Too little information
----------------------

10. (C) The parents of the disappeared harraga spend their
days lobbying the government to take greater action in
obtaining and sharing information. Between April and
December 2007, they sent full dossiers on the disappeared and
requests for meetings and information to over 37 Algerian
government officials, ministries, ambassadors,
parliamentarians and judges. They did not obtain a single
response. Consultants xxxxxxxxxxxx and xxxxxxxxxxxx were not surprised
by this, saying the government would not respond because,
although it realizes the emotional urgency of the problem, it
had "no clue" how to solve the problem and therefore did not
want to touch it. Daoud said that when harraga do not phone
home upon arrival, they are most often either dead or in a
Tunisian jail. xxxxxxxxxxxx and xxxxxxxxxxxx have sought government
assistance in getting information from Tunisia, but xxxxxxxxxxxx
said, "nobody is asking on our behalf." Meanwhile, Daoud
said that very little effort is made to identify the bodies
of harraga that wash up on the beaches of Algeria, and that
to his knowledge no DNA testing is done by the Algerian
authorities.

Relief and surrender at the mosque
----------------------------------

11. (C) According to Daoud, xxxxxxxxxxxx and xxxxxxxxxxxx local
parents are "relieved" when their naturally aggressive,
entrepreneurial children surrender and begin hanging out at
the mosque. "As long as their behavior stays positive and
the government controls extremist messaging," Daoud
explained, this is a far less worrisome outcome than the
risks of the harraga experience. The problem, xxxxxxxxxxxx
explained, is that this "spirit of surrender and passivity"
found among young men who find comfort in the mosque, "is not
at all a natural Algerian quality." xxxxxxxxxxxx said the parents
do worry about the temptations of extremist thought leading
their children astray, but both were emphatic that "Algerians

Algiers 00000787 004 of 004


are not natural suicide bombers." Daoud, also a sociologist,
said that Algerian society is still suffering from "cultural
post traumatic stress syndrome" after the violence of the
1990s. This, when added to current pressures of terrorism
and socioeconomic stagnation, leaves many "dazed and
paralyzed, with their eyes glazed over. Most people simply
don't understand what has hit them over the past 15 years."

Searching for ellis island in the mediterranean
--------------------------------------------- --

12. (C) COMMENT: The harraga phenomenon has grown steadily
over the past year, not only in numbers but in the emotional
resonance the issue generates among the population. Crowds
packed local cinemas early in 2008 to see a new, locally
produced film highlighting the crisis, and the tragedy has
become the subject of popular songs by Cheb Mami and other
singers. The government appears worried but uncertain of how
to solve the problem, trying everything from criminalization
of those who leave to highly publicized efforts to win over
the disenchanted harraga with money and political promises.
Kamel Daoud urged us not to confuse the harraga with suicide
bombers, as "it is an entirely different mentality." The
act of harraga, Daoud explained, "is a cry for liberty
exactly like the immigrants who came to Ellis Island." The
harraga are a product of a society whose fear of terror and
instability has caused it to shut off virtually all outlets
for opportunity, dignity and free association, and not just
to the stereotypical poor unemployed male. Back on the beach
of La Caroube, xxxxxxxxxxxx listed at least six jobs he had applied
for over the last year, all of which he said ultimately went
to "people with connections." When asked where we could
contact him and his friends if we needed to, he smiled and
shook his head. "You can come back in ten years," he said,
"and we'll be sitting right here."
Daughton

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