“I still remember that cold evening in November 2016. I hesitated a great deal before my legs touched the sea water alongside my young friends. I had said my goodbyes to my mentally ill sister, and her little ten-year-old daughter, without letting them feel that I was to set sail to the old continent,” recounts Salima, a young woman in her thirties.
"I had two options – of which the sweetest was bitter – either parting with my loved ones in Algeria or joining my mother," meaning either immigration or suicide
Salima, who was sitting on the side of the road extending her hand in need to passersby, says that, before she thought about leaving Alergia. “At 6 o’clock on a November evening, I had an overwhelming feeling of fear, sadness, and a longing for my mother – who had left me when I was four years old – voices inside me were trying to convince me that one should listen to reason at a time of collective insanity.”
“I approached the front door and forced it open, to feel the bitter cold and loud winds that were blowing from every direction. I hesitated as I pushed my body outside, and I had nothing but a few documents proving my identity. At the time, I felt a chill and the overwhelming desire to scream and cry.”
“Many questions were swirling around in my head, most notably: Will my feet set foot on European soil? I admit that I was displaced and lost very often before I made myself a dream. I was lost many times in the path of life. I took drugs and had many unsatisfactory and illegal sexual relations.”
Either Parting with My Loved Ones or Joining My Mother
She continues: “While heading to the starting point of the trip, there were restless things that would not settle down and details that would not die in my memory. They were what prompted me to embark on this adventure. I had two options – of which the sweetest was bitter – either parting with my loved ones in Algeria or joining my mother,” meaning either immigration or suicide.
“As soon as I reached the sailing point, I found young men between the ages of 20 and 40, preparing in silence for the tumultuous night. Hours passed by, and a strange stillness had fallen over us. It was a situation like I have never seen before – no commotion, no noise, no sounds were to be heard, except for the sound of the crashing sea waves.”
“I wondered while I was on the boat: Will my feet set foot on European soil? I was displaced and lost many times before I made my own dreams. I took drugs and had many unsatisfactory illegal sexual relations”
Salima, who had scars running down her forehead along her nose all the way to her neck, adds, “We jumped one by one into the boat, which was packed full with more than 30 migrants. The boat was carrying twice its limit, because those supervising the operation had only one goal in mind – to make money. We could not move or even turn right or left, for everyone was busy listening to songs of migration, such as the song that left a great impact on the country’s youth, ‘Forgive Me Mama, I Must Cross the Oceans’, as well as ‘In my Country, They Wronged Me, Let Me Go, Let Me Go My Heart Is Aching’.
An hour after departing, and due to the mounting intensity of the high waves and strong winds, the captain decided to return to the starting point, despite the objection of a large portion of the immigrants since they had paid large amounts of money. “During those moments when the storm intensified, everyone who was in the boat began repeating prayers and pleas until we reached our homeland.”
“I Sold My Jewelry to Migrate”
Iman, a young Algerian girl in her prime, is also experiencing a similar state of sadness and frustration. She was in a relationship with a young man addicted to narcotics and involved in many crime that eventually led him to prison.
Iman had met a young man not much older than her, fell in love with him and had sex, in defiance of customs. She tells Raseef22, “He convinced me of secretly migrating from Algeria to Spain, painting in my mind’s eye a life of bliss and paradise on one of its islands.”
Iman started selling some of the expensive jewelry that her mother and father had given her. She also began grabbing anything of value that would appear in front of her and can be sold to provide the money required for immigration, because it was the only option left before her, especially after she lost her virginity. She says, “But the dream turned into a nightmare after all our attempts failed.”
Iman holds her breath, then adds, “Today I am like a silkworm, weaving from disappointment, a story that had thrown me into the bottom of the unknown, after my boyfriend entered prison because of the crimes and problems he committed, and I remained hostage to mental illnesses, disorders, and clinical trials in order to escape the clutches of addiction and the fear of the details that refuse to leave my memory.”
The local streets of Algeria carry tragic tales and stories about women’s attempts to illegally migrate to Europe – most prominent of which is the story of Zahia Boughazi, 30, who lived in the town of Sidi Lakhdar Ben Khlouf in one of the districts of Mostaganem in western Algeria.
Boughazi decided to migrate illegally to Europe after all her failed attempts to legally travel to France. Her file was rejected seven times in a row, and Zahia found no other way to see her 14-year-old son – whom she had left 11 years ago after his father gained custody – except to sail secretly. Fate however destined for Zahia Boughazi to return to her hometown in a body bag, after the boat that was carrying her was damaged and capsized at sea.
Iman began selling some of the jewelry her mother gave her and began grabbing anything of value that would appear before her to provide the required money, since immigration was the only option left after she lost her virginity.
There are no official figures or statistics on those who have boarded the death boats. The Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights said in one of its periodic reports that – based on the figures of the Coast Guard of the Algerian Navy – the attempts of 186 women who tried to reach the other side of the Mediterranean were thwarted during the time between January and December 31st of the year 2017.
“Victims of Love Stories”
Algerian activist Dalila Hussein comments on the matter in question, telling Raseef22, “Girls – survivors of love stories that do not end well – are among the most prominent groups that want to immigrate, it is the last solution they have, especially if a girl loses her virginity. Algerian society does not tolerate issues relating to honor. Most of them steal the valuables in their homes and sell them to gather up and save money.”
Many parents are busy with their jobs and careers, leaving their sons and daughters wondering about an ambiguous future. That pushes women, especially due to a lack of job opportunities as well as the limited freedom of movement in leaving the house, to “illegal” methods, in an attempt to secure a better future.
The activist holds parents responsible for “the moral deviation of children”, suggesting creating special programs for parents – and even for teachers and professors – to “define their roles in education, implant religious values within their minds, and help them arrange their priorities,” as she puts it.
Girls – survivors of love stories that do not end well – are among the most prominent groups that want to immigrate, it is the last solution they have, especially if a girl loses her virginity. Algerian society does not tolerate issues relating to honor.
The head of the Imams Syndicate (Union) in Algeria, Jaloul Hujimi, points to the importance of an unfair political and social background when it comes to dealing with the needs and aspirations of women. He tells Raseef22, “There are many reasons behind the spread of this phenomenon, including the lack of hope, the deterioration of the political situation in the country, in addition to the great influence that the songs about illegal immigration leave on the public.”
Hujimi stresses the need to restore lost confidence in the nation today, find effective solutions to enhance the status of women in Algerian society, open clear and goal-oriented projects, as well as study all the causes that drive women to ride the boats of death.
Hujimi ends with, “A woman should feel that she is a real and actual partner, instead of a mere maid or servant.”