Ammar Bouhouche, University of Algiers


March 6-12, 2009

Algeria witnessed 3 waves of migrations. The first one came as a result of the French occupation of Algeria in 1830. The second one took place during the war of liberation, 1954-1962. The third wave is related to the Algerian Migrant workers to France.


  1. The Flux of Europeans

 From Sooth Europe to North Africa


In order to strengthen, its power in Algeria, the army sought , in the first place, the recruitment of civilian settlers who could perpetuate the French domination in north Africa.

The second technique used by the French army was the expropriation of lands which belong to the Algerians. This strategy of the army, was intended to force the Algerians, either to show their loyalty to the French army or be deprived of their properties, and their lands would be free for colonization. Such political strategies of the army confirm the fact that the French people were not willing to take initiative and colonize other territories, but it was rather the military officers who decided to be colonizers and make the French people accept the idea of overseas expansion. The general feeling in 1830, was that France had a little to lose by evacuation, except that the French army felt, its honour was at stake(1).

By 1845, the terror of military rule against the natives started to pay off. Between 1834 and 1845, the army succeeded in forcing natives to emigrate from their fertile lands and take refuge in mountains or desert. The French army was able to do so, and consolidate its power, since it was able to increase its size from 60,000 to 110,000 men(2). Perhaps, no one would sum up the policy of putting all sorts of squeezes on the natives of Algeria better than Marshal Bugeaud who said to members of the French parliament on January 15, 1840 : “I could no find any other way of subduing the country (Algeria) other than seizing these (agricultural) interests”. He made the military policy clear when he further pointed out that “settlers must be put wherever there is good water and fertile land. Don’t worry who it belongs to”(3).

In the same speech to the National Assembly, Bugeaud revealed that he was opposed to limited occupation and the only way to preserve Algeria is by total conquest. The mission of the French army is not to run after Arabs, this is very futile, but to prevent them from sowing, harvesting and grazing. This technique of preventing the Algerians from cultivating their lands was aimed at depriving them of the means of living, and to this effect, the French troops were ordered to destroy crops and leave no space for “enemy” to cultivate and live on  it.

The coup d’état of December 1851, which made Napoleon III the supreme rider in France, allowed the Governor no regain his power in Algeria. General Randon, who was Governor from 1851 to 1858, showed the supremacy of military rulers over the civil administrators in Algeria, by striping the colons of their rights to send deputies to the French parliament. The constitution of January 1852 gave no rights to the three departments to be represented in the Chamber of Deputties(1). However, the new military ruler of Algeria seemed to show some interest in helping colons, more than former Governors and sought to win their support instead of imposing the military officers. A decree of 1851 instructed the prefects to give to each colon free lands (as long as it was less than 50 hectares) without delay or payment. And in order to have enough lands on hand available to all colons, and in particular the 10,000 deported opponents of Napoleon III who refused to be quiet about his coup d’état, Randon issued a decree in which the Governor introduced a new policy of cantonnement that is, restricting each tribe to the land actually needed for the sustenance of its members and taking the rest to the state for settlement (2).In short, this policy of “official colonisation” paid off and the Government acquired more than 1,500,00 hectares (3). The reason for confiscating larger territories through the system of cantonnement was due to the fact that the colons could not dare to harvest expropriated lands in isolated areas and the army was unable to provide security to the colons scattered all over Algeria. So the Governor invented the system of building villages by companies and encouraged the colons to establish business and benefits from the cheap labor of the natives. It appears that Governor Randon wanted to make colons interested in “Commercial and industrial colonization and the Algerians serve as simple workers for the new masters.

The success of such policy would consolidate the military rule, silent the lobbyists of the colons in Paris, and show how the army could run efficiently its empire and meet the needs of French men in the “new France” in Africa.

  In fact, the Ministre of War was pleased with the powers acquired by his ministry as a result of the split among the leaders of the army in Algeria. In a way this was an end to challenges presented to the military headquarters in Paris from marshal Bugeaud, Governor of Algiers from 1840 to 1847. The rift within the military establishment was due to some conflicting projects concerning the lands expropriated from the natives. Undoubtedly, the abundance of lands confiscated by the decree of November 1840 in Mitidja, induced General Lamorcière to present a project to the Ministry of war in which he suggested that the question of domination in Africa was a matter of investment in lands acquired from natives and not the question of men. Furthermore, he proposed the adoption of a new policy aimed at “pushing back the Arabs” from the fertile lands. when the Minister of War accepted this proposal, and issued to that effect the ordinance of December 4, 1846, Governor Bugeaud felt his authority was undermined. Without hesitation, he countered by asking the National Assembly to allocate 3 millions francs for developing new agricultural centers to soldiers who completed their military duties. When the National Assembly turned down Bugeaud’s request for new loan, the disappointed Governor protested and handed in his resignation in June 1847. (1)

In reality, the difference between the policy of the July Monarchy and the Second Republic was the shift from the military colonization to the new System of assimilation and civil colonization. The new government undertook the responsibility of building villages for colons, and forcing the natives to emigrate either to the desert or to poor areas. Such initiated policy of “Official colonization” was designed to fulfil certain economic and political goals. The Republicans went to work immediately and started their projects of colonization by issuing the decree of September 19, 1848, which allocated 50 millions francs for the aid of French immigrants to Algeria : 5 millions for 1848, 10 millions for 1849 and 35 millions for the coming years (2). It was hoped that the sponsored programs of immigration would enable the government to purge Paris from the unpredictable mood of the Parisian proletariat. The decree stipulated that each worker could get 2 to 10 hectares, a house and some financial assistance. The Government succeeded in sending 13,500 immigrants, in 1848, to Algeria. The chief executive told the first groups to immigrate to Algeria: “Honneur à vous !” the future belongs to you, you will find a healthy climate, immense plains and fertile, virgin soil which belongs to nobody else but to you, to cultivate, rise to affluence and honor(1).

Table i

Decades of European migration to Algeria


Years of migration Number of migrants settled in Algeria



























Source : Charles Henry Favrod, La révolution algérienne. Paris: Plan 1959, p. 127, and also : Ammar Bouhouche, the Algerian migrant workers in France.  Alger: SNED, 1979, p. 85.

In the era of Napoleon III, the government boosted the policy of immigration to Algeria by giving concessions to companies for building villages in exchange for getting free lands and exploiting the natural resources of Algeria. The new policy of “Colonisation capitaliste” (1851 – 1858) resulted in increasing the French and foreign immigrants from 131 000 in 1851 to 181 000 in 1858. Up to the year 1851, the foreign and French immigrants to Algeria were more or less equal in number (66,050 from France and 65,233 from foreign countries) but the determination of the leaders of the Second Republic and napoleon III to deport undesirable elements or trouble-makes to Algeria, boosted the conflicting projects concerning the lands expropriated from the in the era of Napoleon III, the government boosted the policy of immigration to Algeria by giving concessions to companies for building villages in exchange for getting free lands and exploiting the natural resources of Algeria. The new policy of “Colonization capitaliste” (1851-1858) resulted in increasing the French and foreign immigrants from 131 000 in 1851 to 181 000 in 1858. Up to the year 1851, the foreign and French immigrants to Algeria were more or less equal in number (66,050 from France and 65,233 from foreign countries) but the determination of the leaders of the Second Republic and Napoleon III to deport undesirable elements or trouble-makes to Algeria, boosted the number of French settlers in Algeria to 112, 229 in 1861, compared to 80,248 foreign immigrants in that year. The foreigners in Algeria, other than the French, will not outnumber the immigrants coming from metropolitan France until 1876 when the Spanish and Italian immigrants reached the number of 155,735 individuals, compared lo 155,727 Frenchmen in that date (1). As a result of the new projects of the Ministry of War in Paris and in particular the “official colonization” initiated under the Second Republic and “Capitaliste Colonization” in the Napoleonic era, the European immigrants accelerated their pressure on the natives in order to be forced out of their lands. In fact, some Algerian families in the eastern part of Algeria lost between 40 and 85% of their properties(1).

In brief, the number of European migrants, residents and settlers, kept increasing until their number reached in early 1950 more than one million human beings. The dramatic events came in November 1954 when the Algerians decided to put an end to the political persecution and economic injustice in their country. The successful revolution of 1954, terminated the French occupation to Algeria in 1962 and consequently, the French settlers returned home and left their properties in Algeria.

At this stage, one needs to be reminded that the war of liberation in Algeria (1954-1962), had resulted in the return of million Europeans to France, and the migration of a large percentage of the Algerian population to Tunisia and Marocco, and this will be the next topic of my analysis.


II- The exodus of refugees to Tunisia and morocco


Definition of a refugee: What is meant by a refugee here is a person who fled Algeria across the international frontier between 1954-1962. When we use the term of a dispersed person, it is meant by that an individual who fled homestead, village or forced to leave his hometown during the war of liberation (1954-1962) but remained within the international borders of Algeria. As for the term a returnee, it is intended to refer to a refugee and a dispersed person. That is to say, all the people who returned to their village from Tunisia and Marocco or from concentration camps inside Algeria. In this sense, a refugee is not a migrant individual who leaves his residency for economic reason or seek political asylum in another country voluntarily. A refugee in this paper, is the person who is obliged or forced to leave his country or his home for political reasons, war or natural catastrophies(1). According to this criteria, the Algerian migrant workers in France are not considered to be refugees even a large pourcentage of these migrants consider themselves to be political refugees. They claim that they were obliged to leave Algeria during the war of liberation (1954-62) because the French settlers chased them from Algeria.

Before we describe the social and economic conditions of the returnees, it is essential to present some facts on the Algerian refugees and displaced persons who fled their villages during the war of liberation. 1954-1962.

As for the refugees, it can be said that, in the beginning of the war, it was unconceivable for the majority of the people, that one day, they would be obliged or forced to flee their country and live in exile. But in 1958, when things turned to the worse and each side tried to intensify military operations and win the war, the civililians found themselves squeezed between the French army and the Algerian rebels. What made things worse for most of families living in mountains and in international borders of Algeria, is the decision taken by the French army to burn Mountains and create new areas called “No man’s Land”. That is to say, the people who used to live in the frontiers must leave their homes, properties and their lands if they were settling within 45 km from the Tunisian and Moroccan borders. As result of this brutality, the Algerian refugees began drifting out of Algeria, since their towns and homes were destroyed, their crops and cattle were taken(2). But the influx of refugees to Tunisia and Morocco was slown down when the French installed the electrified barrage (The Challe-Morice lines) on each side of Algeria in late 1958 and early 1959.

By the year 1962, the Algeria refugees in Tunisia and Morocco numbered 300,000 people. According to the official statistics of the Algerian Red Crescent. There were 160.000 refugees in Tunisia and 140.000 in Morocco. Of those 300.000 people, about 50% were children under fifteen years of age, 35% were women, and 15% were men, generally too old or too ill to Join the maquis (1)

As for displaced persons who were forced lo move to concentration camps, it can be said that their conditions did not become critical or alarming until 1957 when the French authorities started to expel the civilians from their homes in the area which became the stronghold of Algerian fighters. But this process started to spread to other hot spots, especially in late 1957 when the French military authorities decided to bring the population to camps during the day light and allow them to go back home in the evening. However, this strategy was modified when the French military authorities stepped up military operations against the rebels. As they decided to relocate one million paysants, the French resorted to some sort of action because they were convinced that France can not win the war if the civilian populations are not separated completely from their compatriots. “By uprooting villagers from their ancestral homes and field and placing them in barbed wire encampments where they lived bewildered and listless lives, the French bequeathed to independent Algeria a large improvised and often psychologically disturbed mass of the people” (2)

At any rate, in 1958, the inhabitants of rural areas found themselves in concentration camps under the direct control of the military authorities. According to the statistics available on this subject, the number of displaced persons (3) (or the so called “refugees” inside Algeria) varied between 1, 250,000 persons and I, 500,000 human beings (statistics of March 21, 1960). Some French Journalists conveyed the feeling that the first number, may be considered a reference to the hostages or refugees in official concentration camps and the second number, may be a reference to the well known concentration camps and secret locations which were not declared to the public(4) . According to the Algerian sources there were 700.000 displaced persons in the region of Constantine, 600.000 displaced persons in the region of Algiers and 500.000 displaced persons in the region of Oran (1). In short, the displaced persons were grouped in 5425 camps, guarded by the French army. The French authorities claimed that 1,200 camps were villages and 2225 were centers for resettlement which can be regarded as camps.

The process of repatriation: After the signature of the Evian Agreement, on March 18, 1962, the Algerian refugees in Tunisia and Morocco started to prepare themselves for the eventual return back home. This possibility of going back home, however, depended on the decisions taken by the executive Power or the provisional government Formed jointly by the French and the Algerian Government in exile. This government by interim was supposed to govern Algeria until the outcome of self determination which had to be organized within time allowed, between three months and six months. Since it was stated in article 4 of Evian Accords that “the French forces stationed in the frontiers will not withdraw before the proclamation of the results of self-determination”, the refugees could not enter Algeria until the interim government authorizes them to come back to their homes.

But the dilemma of a civil war between the French government and its right wing secret army organization (O.A.S) which seemed to be determined to keep Algeria French, postponed the return of refugees until April 1962 when the joint commission (or the newly created Franco-Algerian provisional government) started to negotiate with the O.A.S. and put an end to the local resistance by the French settlers against the Evian Accords which stipulated that(2):

“Refugees abroad can re-enter Algeria. Committees to be set up in Morocco and Tunisia will facilitate this return .Displaced persons who have been regrouped can come back to their place of abode of normal residence. The executive power will take the preliminary social, economic and other measures destined to insure the return of those people to a normal life” (3)

At any rate, it was in April 1962 that a committee of High Commissariat for Refugees (U.N.H.C.R) decided to participate in the process of repatriation of refugees. Naturally, the Algerians and the French authorities welcomed the move, and the three authorities worked together to set up a central committee for the repatriation of the refugees. In addition to the work carried out by the 3 subcommittees composed of three members, many refugees returned home very quickly in order to find out what had happened to their relatives and properties(1).

What ought to be stressed here is the fact that most of the refugees returned home before the first of July 1962, because the FLN wanted them to participate in the referendum of self – determination which was scheduled for July 3, 1962. In fact, the leaders of the FLN were afraid that the French authorities may influence the course of events by inducing Their loyal allies to vote”No” or against the creation of an independent state in Algeria. Indeed the returnees adopted the strategy of the FLN and encouraged everybody to vote massively “Yes” which meant the creation of a sovereign state in Algeria. Obviously, the results of the referendum which took place on July 3, 1962 confirmed the success of returnees in influencing the process of voting. Out of 6.000.000 voters, 5.971.581 voted “Yes” and only 16.534 voted “no” (2).

It should be emphasized here, however, that each refugee decided by himself when to return back home and the Algerian authorities arranged and Co-ordinated between different centers so that they can fix the dates and provide the means of transportations for every refugee. As for the logistical problems of travelling home, it is well known fact that a large percentage of the refugees crossed the borders in trucks belonging to the Algerian army of liberation. This decision was taken by the Algerian authorities because the committees in charge of refugees, found it difficult to generate funds and vehicules for the transportation of refugees. In this way, the problem of shortage in cash and the strong desire of the returnees to go back home quickly since the Evian Accords allow them lo return at any time they whished, were solved rapidly and efficiently.

The successful return of refugees, paves the way to the third wave of migration which has remained unsolved until now. It is the question of the Algerian labour force which is very complicated and deserves more attention from the authorities.


III- A mass departure of migrant workers

from North Africa to south Europe


Up to 1914, there were limited number of workers who sought jobs in metropolitan France. Thanks to the competition between the German and French industries to produce military equipments for the war, that the French industrialists sent to Algeria emissaries to recruit the Algerian workers for their factories. In June 1913, the French government issued a decree which facilitated the process of encouraging migrant workers to come to France and earn good wages.

The process of migration was accelerated in 1915 because the French workers were mobilized and sent to the military camps. Furthermore World War I resulted in the death of 1 800 000 French soldiers (1914 – 1918). The shortage in manpower induced the French government to invite young men from Algeria to come to France and replace the lost soldiers. It was estimated that French entrepreneurs needed more than 100 000 unskilled workers for rebuilding France and meeting the needs of the French society.

Indeed, the number of migrant workers jumped from 17 000 in 1916 to 100 000 in 1924. This wave of migration to France, annoyed the French in Algeria who attempted to prevent the young men from migration because the settlers needed such cheap labour in Algeria. Table II shows the increase and decline of migrant workers between 1914 and 1939, and the main reason for such fluctuation is due to the success or failure of the settlers to stop the process of migration(1).

In January 1940, the French ministry of work, as well as the ministry of defense, ordered the young men in North Africa to come to France and replace the French workers who left their jobs and joined the army. The ministry of defense, also, asked the young men to serve in the French army and carry out their duties, either in Algeria or in France. By The year 1947, the number of migrant worker reached 67 200 workers in that year. In short, the number of Algerian workers and their families in France reached the number of 350.000 in 1945.

When the war broke out between France and the Algerian national liberation front (FLN) in 1954, the movement of workers to France was reduced and the French government relied on the Moroccan and Tunisian workers. The rapidly expanding French economy in 1962, induced the French government to facilitate the process of migration and there was no visa for entering France until 1968 when Algeria and France agreed on a quota of 35 000 migrants per year. In 1973, the Algerian government decided to suspend all operations of migration to France.

It is obvious that the turning point for migration to Europe was the oil embargo against the United States of America and a number of its western allies which resulted in a quadrupling in oil prices. many people believed that the increase in oil would be beneficial to Algeria and this country will be capable of creating sufficient jobs to its labor force. In fact, Tunisia and Algeria tried to incite their migrant workers to return back home, but these return policies failed, because of the lack opportunities for economic reintegration.


Table II:

 Movement of migrant workers

Between France and Algeria 1914 – 1939*

Year Number of migrants

to France

Number of returnees to Algeria  






















































































+  4.304

–      279








+     721

–   3.247


+    465

+ 1.601

–  3.341

+ 1.720



–   2.044

+  1.745


* Source  -Muracciole, l’émigration Algérienne. Alger, 1950 p.31 or see :

    – Ammar Bouhouche, The Algerian migrant workers in France, Alger : SNED, 1979, p. 137.



Table III:

Movement of migrant workers Between

France and Algeria 1947.1976


Number of migrants to France Number of returnees to Algeria  






























































































+  7.045







+  3.732









–   9.281









+  8.132

–   5.528


Source : The French ministry of interior, or see

       Ammar Bouhouche, The Algerian migrant workers in France, Alger: SNED, 1979,   p. 141.


The dilemma of migrant workers, is that they were caught between the slowdown or recession in Europe as a result of the higher price af oil, and the uncertainly to find jobs back home. This is why, most of them, decided to settle permanently in Europe rather than going back home. Furthermore, the introduction of visa, has created the fear that they may not be allowed to come back in the future. It was noticed that most of the migrant workers preferred to be on the safe side and ask their families to join them in Europe, instead of going back home.

Indeed, the year oil crisis of 1973, heralded the shift from temporary to permanent migrant workers. Since that time, the process of family reunification has become the leading phenomenon in Europe. thanks to the policies of family reunification that the migrant workers were able to obtain the permits of legal residence in Europe. It was estimated in the middle of 1980 that the number of Algerian migrant workers and their families increased from 500 000 in 1964 to 800 00 in the year 1980.

What is needed to be added here is the fact that the restricted measures on giving visa, has led to a boom in illegal migration to Europe, especially to Italy, Spain and France.  The European countries on the Mediterranean cost, need unskilled workers for their export oriented agriculture. It is very easy for unskilled worker to fin a job in the informal sectors, because the migrant workers accept to receive low paid wages. Sometimes, the migrants try to enter Spain, Italy and France as tourists, and other times, they rent boats and take the risk of rowing to the other side of the Mediterranean Sea.

In the beginning of the 21 century, it is estimated that 1.101.235 Algerian are residents in France. Because the Algerian state is rich and has in its treasury more than 100 Billion dollars reserve in hard currency from oil, The State does not need their money. But the families of migrant workers in Algeria live on remittances of workers abroad. It is estimated that more than a million and half Algerians, inside Algeria, live on such remittances. There is no doubt that migration is an effective way of improving the financial conditions of millions of relatives back home.

It is very unfortunate that 85% of labour migrants who come to Europe are unskilled labourers (compared to 55% of skilled migrants who go the U.S.A) and most of them come from rural areas where they live on agriculture and gain their bread from this sector. The European countries are perusing abnormal policies toward developing nations in Africa which contribute to the African’s, misery, and inducing migrant worker to flee their home lands. They are pursing a selfish external trade policies which obstruct sustainable economic growth in African countries. It seems evident that the European foreign trade policies contributes, to a significant extent, to the deterioration of African agricultural policies by giving subsidies to their farmers and making it, impossible for African producers to compete with the European farmers. The neo liberal approach of development, based on free trade and market economy, will rather stimulate migration from African states to the European countries. In order to survive and stay home, the migrant workers need nutrition, investment in land and security. But the price of food is going high and no body seems to be able to secure his meal at home, and that’s why most young men and women in Africa, are determined to migrate, at any price.

* A paper prepared for delivery at the work shop, organized by the max Planck institute for social Anthropology in Halle  (sale) Germany, from 5 to 12 March, 2009

(1) D.K. Fieldhous, The colonial Empires. London: Woidenfeld and Nicoison Limited, 1966, p. 181.

(2) S. Gell, Histoire d’Algérie, Paris : Ancienne Librairie Furn Boivin and Société, 1929, p. 217.

(3) Bugeaud in , Les constructeurs de la France d’autre mer, Paris : Edition Corréa, 1946, p. 209.

(1) Henri Blet. Histoire de la colonisation Française, 1780-1870. Paris: B. Arthaud 1946, p. 185.

(2) Robert op.cit, p.197.

(3) Robert Aron, Les Origines de la Guerre de l’Afrique. Paris : Fayard, 1962. p.42

(1) Federic Mauro, L’expansion Européenne 1600-1870, Paris, Presse Universitaires de France 1964, p. 248.

(2) Julian, op.cit. p. 364

(1) Quoted in Maurice Moissonier, « origines et début de la conquête de l’Algérie », in. Cahiers internationaux, vol. 12 n°113. 1960 p.75.

(1) Un Algérien, « la question Algériennes », in Revue Politique et Parlementaire. Vol XXIX July August, September) 1901. p. 90.

(1) Julien, op.cit, p 405

(1) For further information on the definition of a refuge, the reader is advised to consult : International Encyclopaedia, Edition of 1968. p. 362, or consult the 1951 United Nations Convention or the 1967 United Nations Protocol.

(2) Richard and Joan Brace. Algerian voices. New York. D.Van Nostrand Company. In. 1965. p.19

(1) Richard and Joan Brace,  Op.cit., p.19

(2) David C. Gordon, The passing of French Algeria. London : Oxford University Press: 1966, p.64

(3) Le terme utilisé en Français est : réfugie dans le camp.

(4) France Soir, issue of April 14, 1960.

(1) El Moudjahid, issue n°62 1960

(2) Ben Youcef Benkhedda, Les Accords d’Evian, Alger : Office des Publications Universitaires 1986. p.76.

(3) Chapter (1) in, les accords d’Evian, in Benyoucef Ben Khedda’s book, op.cit, p. 81.

(1) Mohamed Ben Ali Guebaili, born on April 24, 1912, refugee in Tunisia until 1962, interviewed on Wednesday October 24, 1990, In Sidi Fredj.

(2) Pierre Montagnon, La Guerre d’Algérie, Paris :  Pygmalion Gérard Watelet, 1984, p. 400

(1) Ammar Bouhouche,  The Algerian migrant workers to France. Alger : SNED 1979 pp 130-160

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