Housing riots rock Algiers

Roads are blocked, sporadic clashes erupt between protestors and police, and buildings are vandalised by rioters. Public disorder roiled Algiers and its suburbs this week as residents vented their anger at what they describe as “social injustice”.

The latest episode of riots took place in Ain Benian, west of Algiers. Residents took to the streets on Monday (September 12th) to press for housing that they have been waiting ten years for. More than 200 families live in dire conditions in the shantytown of Oued Koreich.

“The authorities have betrayed us,” Amine told Magharebia. “We’re the victims of the floods which struck the capital in 2001. At the time, officials reassured us that we wouldn’t have to stay there for more than three months. That was ten years ago.”

His seven family members had pinned great hopes on the operation to re-house 3,000 families in the capital, which was launched a few days ago. To their surprise, they found out that the authorities had excluded their shantytown from the project.

Not far from Oued Koreich, in Diar El Kaf, tensions heated up at the beginning of the month and again on September 12th. Residents protested the choice of re-housing locations and accused authorities of lying.

“They promised us F4 class accommodation with all mod cons,” Saleh complained. “But once we got there, we saw that we’d be getting F3. To make things worse, the site is a long way from the town. Our children will have to travel 3km to school.”

The families blocked the road. A delegation from the local council headed out to meet representatives of the families. An uneasy calm took hold in the district, but residents vow to resume their protests if their grievances remain unaddressed.

The Diar Echems district witnessed the most violent clashes. On the eve of the re-housing of 399 families, protestors scuffled with law enforcement officers. Riot police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse demonstrators, who retaliated by hurling stones and petrol bombs. Rioters also stormed the head offices of Equitablement & Ensemble Pour une Algeria Developpée (EEPAD), Algeria’s largest internet provider.

Several people were injured on both sides. The 399 families affected by the re-housing plan said the anger was justified. Residents had hoped to be resettled in Draria instead of Birtouta, Salim, a father and one of the families’ representatives, told Magharebia. Authorities refused to meet their demands.

“They told us in no uncertain terms that the decision was ‘irreversible’ and that we would be re-housed in Birtouta,” he said.

To blunt the growing anger, the Wali of Algiers pledged that more than 10,000 homes would be “signed off starting this month and through October, and all the house moves would be finished by the end of this year”. Mohamed Kebbir Addou warned that the operation “required patience, understanding and discipline”.

“Let those who want to go to their new homes do so, and those who do not want can stay where they are,” he said.

For his part, Housing Minister Noureddine Moussa on September 5th asked the people who had not yet been allocated a new home and who were suffering in dilapidated buildings to wait their turn. “It takes a lot of time, materials and human resources to build a home,” he said.

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