Algeria Table of Contents

Two major external migratory movements have reshaped the settlement pattern since World War II: the abrupt departure of most of the European colonists in 1962 and 1963 and the flow of Algerian workers to the European continent--chiefly to France. In 1945 Algerian workers and their families in France numbered about 350,000, and in 1964 they numbered an estimated 500,000. By the early 1980s, they totaled 800,000, according to official French figures. About 350,000 were male workers, the remainder being women and children under seventeen years of age. Many were from the Kabylie, a poor agricultural region that suffered severely during the War of Independence. In addition to these migrants, 400,000 harkis (Algerians who served with the French army in the War of Independence) resided permanently in France, mostly in the south.

In 1968 the Algerian and French governments set a quota on migrants of 35,000 per year, which was reduced to 25,000 in 1971. Although Algeria suspended all migration to France in 1973, an estimated 7,000 Algerians nonetheless continued to migrate illegally each year at the end of the 1970s. In the mid-1970s, both France and Algeria offered incentives to migrants to return home, one of them being guaranteed housing. Although figures were hard to obtain, it appeared that few responded to these gestures.

The economic crisis in Europe in the aftermath of the Arab oil embargo of 1973 led to a recession that affected Algerians as well as other North Africans working in Europe, primarily in France. Because of rising unemployment, French trade unions began to agitate against migrant workers, claiming that they took jobs from French men and women. Governments in France and other European countries instituted new policies to control migration from North Africa and other parts of the developing world.

The impact of those new policies had a paradoxical effect on Algerian and other North African migrants in France. They had been quite content until then to move back and forth between France and their homeland, never quite settling in France, and generally keeping their families in Algeria, Tunisia, or Morocco. After the new policies were instituted, migrants feared that they might never be able to return to France if they went home to visit their families. Rather than risk losing their residence abroad, many migrants opted to bring their families to Europe and set up more permanent forms of residence there.

French trade unions reacted by formulating policies that restricted the rights of migrant workers even more than before. By 1980 Algerians and other North African workers had lost their union rights and benefits, and by 1984 the unions that had sprung up to represent the migrants were no longer insisting that they have the same economic and social rights as the indigenous work force. Whereas in 1974 French trade union resolutions stated that migration had to be contained, a decade later they had taken the position that migration had to be stopped.

To make matters worse, Algerians and other migrants from the Maghrib were always perceived as migrant workers and so were rarely naturalized in France. The majority, therefore, in the early 1990s had no voice in the French political system and did not represent a political force or even an interest group that could exert pressure to defend its rights. Their visibility and vulnerability, however, made them an easy target for those who wished to find scapegoats for the problems ailing European economies.

More about the Population of Algeria.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress