Algeria’s collective suicides over joblessness

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At 9 am last Thursday, July 29, the southern regional office of the National Employment Agency (ANEM) in Ouargla province, located 500km south of Algiers, Algeria, was under high alert following the thwarting of an attempted group suicide of a dozen frustrated unemployed youths by the police.

At noon the day before, the act of desperation by numerous young job-seekers, fed up after years of unemployment, caught the attention of the local population—a population seemingly sensitive to their cry for help.

For S. Salem, “things have been stagnant in Ouargla for too many years. We don’t understand why our youth in their prime are left to their own devices in a province overflowing with job offers, and which only profit youth from other provinces.”

Between 13,000 and 15,000 jobs are offered annually in the Hassi Messaoud oil-producing town, in Ouargla province, alone, according to data from the ANEM which acts as an intermediary between employers and job-seekers.

The government agency blames the situation on mediocre qualifications and disorganization of local manpower, as well as the hesitation of oil companies, who send their job offers to the agency to be displayed on the last day of the statutory deadline of 21 days. These companies then impose draconian and unreasonable conditions on new recruits.

The situation is dire for young job-seekers, and their testimonies illustrate the impossible conditions required as a precondition to employment and the eventual hardships that ensue.

The concerned youths have denounced a culture of favoritism among both ANEM and the various employers. According to them qualifications, even for menial labor jobs, are near to impossible.

Last Wednesday’s suicidal job-seekers come from highly disadvantaged areas and backgrounds. And the backgrounds of the instigators of this desperate demonstration, Ghobchi Madani and Chemkhai Eddine, bear testimony.

One is an ex-convict who has paid his due to society, and the other is diminutive in stature, small and sickly. The two young men have been declared unfit for work by both the National Oil-Well Services Company (ENSP) and the National Oil-Well Works Company (ENTP) respectively.

The two believe they have been wronged by the powers that be’s prejudicial opinions, which in their point of view, fall “on every job-seeker who looks ‘indigenous’ and doesn’t speak French or English.”

The job-seekers managed to get around security at the ANEM regional office and climbed up onto the terrace of the defunct construction company building (DNC) located in the center of Ouargla-City.

Since its liquidation, DNC buildings have been leased to private companies and government agencies.

The youths, who live in close proximity to the ANEM offices, march regularly in front of the provincial government headquarters to demand that their grievance be addressed; the same grievance which has always brought them out into the streets as they demand their rights for employment and dignity.

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