Dignity not hunger drives Algerian illegal migrants

Mon Feb 23, 2009 11:36am EST
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By Larbi Louafi

ANNABA, Algeria (Reuters) - When his son vanished in the Mediterranean two years ago, Kamel Belabed struggled to understand why the educated 25-year-old, his partner in a small communications business, had risked his life to reach Europe.

Searching out relatives of others lost at sea, Belabed found a reality that belied the European cliche of unskilled, jobless migrants trying to escape dire poverty. Many of those leaving Algeria were frustrated professionals chafing at the lack of opportunity at home.

The thousands who paid traffickers for passage to Italy on small boats included lawyers, civil servants, police officers and university lecturers, some in their 50s, he said.

"To my knowledge, I have not found anyone who left because he was hungry," said Balabed. "It's about human dignity. People do not accept injustice."

Algerians say their education system has improved greatly since independence in 1962 but the oil and gas-based economy has failed to create enough jobs worthy of their qualifications.

President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has promised a national development programme worth $150 billion if he wins April elections, and political allies say the plan should focus on giving young Algerians jobs and a feeling of security.

Social problems remain profound and the government is still struggling to restore hope to a population scarred by the decade-long Islamist insurgency.

Unemployment stands officially at 11 percent but is estimated at more than 70 percent among people under 30.   Continued...