It is a calm and smooth Mediterranean that fifty boats split this Sunday in October, loaded with “harraga”, these Algerians more and more numerous to reach Spain at the risk of their lives to flee despair.
“I would rather die at sea than stay in Algeria,” says Khaled Dih. With dark circles around his eyes and his Nike wet and full of sand, he has just arrived on a beach in Almeria, in the south-east of Spain, after a six-hour night crossing of nearly 200 kilometers from Oran, in the north-west of Algeria.
“There’s nothing in the village, no work”, annoys this amateur boxer, fan of the French rap group PNL, readjusting his ponytail between two cigarettes.
Khaled chose the day of his 21 years to leave Algeria like thousands of “harraga” (literally “the burners”), nickname of migrants who often set their identity documents on fire to avoid being identified and returned to Algeria, and who “burn” the border, that is to say, cross it clandestinely, and dangerously.
At least 309 migrants, including 13 children, have lost their lives in the western Mediterranean since the start of the year, according to the International Organization for Migration.
On the boat, “it was tracing, boom, boom”, describes Khaled, shaking his body to mimic the tremors, before stopping because of the pains caused by them, and “you couldn’t do anything”, nor drink. , nor eat, so “I was thinking of my parents, of my friends” in the cold.
Sitting in front of the station, he stings his nose after three sleepless nights since leaving Annaba, his home town (northeast), to Oran, 900 km to the west, where he spent 4,500 euros to cross, a sum representing many months of salary.
Khaled is waiting for a bus for Barcelona, from where he will try to go to France, like the vast majority of harraga. “I don’t speak Spanish (…) I have family and friends in France, so I can’t stay here alone”.
More women and children
The number of Algerians arriving on the coasts of south-eastern Spain or the Balearic Islands has jumped in recent months. An internal document from the Spanish authorities consulted by AFP indicates that 9,664 Algerians have entered Spain illegally since the start of the year, 20% more than a year ago.
According to the European agency Frontex, they are the first nationality to enter Spain illegally, and the third in Europe. On the Algerian side, 4,704 departing harraga were intercepted in 2021, more than half of which in September, according to the Algerian Ministry of Defense.
New phenomenon: more and more women and children are risking their lives to cross. “A new phenomenon of + family harraga +” with “women, babies, pregnant women and people with disabilities” which “tells us about the degree of despair” in Algeria, analyzes Said Salhi, vice-president of the Algerian League of defense of human rights (LADDH).
The NGO Save The Children claims to have taken care of more than a hundred children who arrived in September on the coast of Andalusia, a region where Almeria is located.
The anguish of loved ones
On the other side of the Mediterranean, anguish is enormous for the families of harraga, testifies Francisco José Clemente Martin. This 24-year-old Almérien, member of the NGO CIPIMD, informs the relatives of migrants on a daily basis, sometimes going so far as to send them photos of corpses to identify them. Calls marked “by cries, tears (…) many mothers end up in the hospital because of the tension”, he says.
28-year-old Harraga arrived in Almeria a year ago, Ahmed Bensafia, originally from Tipaza (north), had not informed his family of his departure “so as not to worry them”, he confides, dressed in a Mouloudia Club d’Alger jersey.
He judges that he had no other choice, because in Algeria, “the salary is so low” that a “working day does not even guarantee you a meal in the evening”. Even if, with hindsight, he advises his compatriots “not to risk (their) life” as he did.
If they manage to escape the Spanish police, Algerian migrants still have a long road strewn with dangers to France. At the beginning of October, three of them were struck by a train near Saint-Jean-de-Luz (south-west) while they were lying on the rails to rest and escape controls.
So much so that, two days after leaving Almeria, Khaled Dih has only one word when crossing the French border: “relieved”.