Algeria: Xenophobia against Chinese on the rise in Africa

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Algerian job seekers have blamed their country’s widening unemployment scale on the increasing number of Chinese emigrants living in Algeria and working for meager pay. The accusations have resulted in tensions between hundreds of Algerians and Chinese which have led to clashes involving knives, sticks and rods.

Since the killing of nine Chinese oil workers by rebels in Ethiopia’s Ogaden region in April 2007, China’s attention on safety and security while in Africa has become imminent. After stories of anti-Chinese unrest in Zambia, it is Algeria’s turn to nurse anti-chinese sentiments. According to locals, firms have shown a marked preference for Chinese laborers, who they claim are often more qualified that local Algerians, and more willing to accept lower wages – to staff the construction sector.

Many Chinese firms employ large numbers of local workers but wages remain low. However, there is evidence that workers are learning new skills because of the availability of Chinese-funded work. Taking advantage of low labour costs, the Chinese are also building factories across Africa. There are currently 50,000 Chinese emigrants living and working in Algeria, according to official Algerian estimates.

On Tuesday, a fight broke out between Algerians and Chinese, after a disagreement between an Algerian shopkeeper and a Chinese migrant worker in Algeria’s Bab Ezzouar district. According to reports, ten Chinese migrants were injured and two Chinese shops looted in the fight.

In July, an al-Qaeda-linked group threatened to target Chinese workers in north Africa, following June 26 Mass factory brawl between Han Chinese and Muslim Uighurs in southern China, where hundreds were killed. In response to the report, the Chinese embassy in Algiers urged all 50,000 Chinese who live and work in Algeria to be more aware of safety precautions.

Despite the growing tensions, Ling Jun, a diplomat at the Chinese embassy insists that the altercation will not affect relations between the two countries: “Our friendship with Algeria is strong and this event is nothing in comparison with the links between our two countries.” In the Bab Ezzouar district alone Chinese firms have built dozens of structures, and despite the complaints from the locals, Algeria has seen tangible development since their partnership with China.

Chinese companies have offered trading and investment opportunities across Africa as they understand that there is copper to mine in Zambia, iron ore to extract in Gabon and oil to refine in Angola to keep their booming, energy-hungry economy thriving. The Chinese government insists that it is not interested in dominating Africa. Instead, it seeks a harmonious world, an evolution of its Cold War search for peaceful co-existence, and it wants to coax African countries along the path towards development.

Oil and gas reserves were discovered in Algeria in the 1950s, but most Algerians live along the northern coast. The country supplies large amounts of natural gas to Europe and energy exports are the backbone of what is today Africa’s third largest economy.

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