Algeria refuses to accept FIDH’s Maghreb representative
The Lebanese daily L’Orient le Jour reports the testimony of Yosra Frawes, head of the Maghreb and Middle East office of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), who was turned back as he entered Algeria.
It is 10:30 a.m. on Thursday, December 1, landing in Algiers. The autumn sun bathes Houari Boumédienne airport, where I stop on my way to Oran to attend a meeting on women’s rights.
“Hello lady, are you Tunisian?” asks the policeman at passport control.
– Hello. Oh, yesterday was huge! You beat France! »
He continues in a more serious tone: “Ma’am, can you remind me the date of your last visit to Algeria?
– Yes, it was in 2019, I believe…
– Yes, but I can’t find any sign of your arrival, write me your business on the card. »
I already mentioned this, but I did it and wrote: Yosra Frawes, FIDH official, before asking him if he found the date of my last visit. He leans on his computer and does not answer. To make it easier for him, I tell him that I came before the pandemic.
“Strange!” she mutters before calling her forty-year-old colleague, who steps forward with a stern look—in this male-dominated profession, a woman can’t suggest otherwise. As I watch her approach, I think I’m probably stuck because of my human rights work.
I am taking precautions to delete the messages and pictures of my Algerian fighter friends from my phone, in case I might be subject to a search. I also write a short message: “I’m stuck at the airport in Algiers” for quick dispatch if my fears are confirmed. And I’m waiting.
A policeman always dives into his computer, leaving it only to take notes on the card. He is so busy that he forgot I was there. Meanwhile, the policewoman came and quickly took my passport. I have no doubts now, but rather than thinking, I think about the women’s rights meeting I’m going to attend and look forward to. The policewoman interrupts my reverie by ordering me to put down my phone. I follow, making sure to press the button to send the message I wrote and intended for the meeting organizer. But the message, I will understand later, will not reach him because there is no network.
I have my passport in my hand, the policewoman asks me to follow her. I am about to do so when his colleague leans towards me and says in a low voice: “Warn those who invited you: you are not allowed to enter Algeria. »
I guessed it, but my eyes fill to find out: another country in the region is added to the countries I can’t go to. War, occupation… and now Algeria for other reasons. Politics, of course.
I am crying because this is Algeria, as our older sister likes to call it, as the Tunisians do. I visited Algiers in 2000, I went through it by train and then they called me crazy. I went back there in March 2019 to support Hirak with Khadija Cherif, Messoud Romdhani, Soukaina Abdessmad and Camel Msallem… I was amazed by the tenacity of the rebellious young Algerians, their humor and creativity. I continued to support them and joined in the criticism of a regime that was increasingly repressive and brutal towards them.
Naive, I thought that the regime that saw me then would forget me over time. But no, his resentment is strong. And I am a policewoman with a heartache. I address him with a mixture of bitterness and rebellion: “I’m not allowed to enter Algeria, right? Can’t get enough of walls? He does not dare to answer me. He points me to the chair and disappears into the office.
After about twenty minutes, which seemed like an eternity to me, I was approached by five police officers, two of whom were in plainclothes. I look up when the oldest looking one asks me, “Ma’am, what’s going on?” The others say nothing, a mocking smile on their lips. I reply with the same smile, “It’s up to you to tell me what happened. »
Then I went through the actual questioning, where they took turns asking:
– “No, honestly, ma’am, what’s the problem?”
– Ask your colleague who told me that I was forbidden to enter Algeria…
– There must be a reason. Which one do you think? »
I start to get angry, I raise my voice: “I don’t know, ask the question to whoever made this decision!”
– Calm down, madam, I’m telling you sincerely and I’m trying to understand, because they tell me that you come to Algeria often. So tell me, what exactly did you do the last time you came and who did you meet? »
I’m on the edge: “Are you questioning me here? »
Some smile broadly, others reply: “No, not at all…”
The oldest, the first to address me: “Come on, don’t worry, you’re upset, madam.” We leave you in peace…”
They move away to stop a few meters ahead. They talk to each other, no doubt discussing my work.
A few hours later, a policewoman passes by. I ask her permission to go to the bathroom. I especially want to try to pick up a net and stretch my legs. He gives me permission, I am accompanied by one of his colleagues, certainly younger.
But I can’t join, and when I come to go back to my place, I meet the policeman who first questions me: “You know the lady, you can go and eat if you want. I’m not hungry, but I ask if I can smoke. He shows me a discreet place where I can do it “as much as I want”. I believe the wait will be long…
“Fortunately, madam! »
A cigarette relaxes me a little, and when I return to my seat, a young man in his 25s greets me. He’s cute and wears a badge, so he works here.
– “Hello, madam,” he said, “can I accompany you?”
– Of course. My name is Yosra Frawes, how about you? »
He introduces himself. He is a policeman who facilitates the passage of passengers, he says.
– “I was told that you are stressed, so I am here to befriend you. This is not an interrogation. If so, you will be taken into an office for formal questioning. I am talking to you personally. I would really like to understand your problem. »
I have no illusions. There will still be questioning, but I might as well kill time with this handsome boy, Kabyle, because I admit I have a weakness for this type of man…
He asks a lot of questions, wants specific details about the planned meeting, who invited me… I answer: “A meeting about women’s rights in Algeria. I don’t know the participants, I was invited by a German foundation where I work in Tunisia. » One of the rare international organizations that continues some action in Algeria just in case… « The program is in my mailbox and I need to contact. If you give me one, I can show you. He is not fooled and pretends not to hear.
He asks about my activities in Tunisia. He is kind, considerate, listens carefully and even shows admiration when I tell him about my commitment to women’s rights and my opposition to violence.
Then he returns to Algeria, my last visit to his country. I don’t hesitate to tell him that I support Hirak. Why hide what they should already know? Absorbed in my memories, I enthusiastically tell him about my meeting with the great Jamila Buhired. In March 2019, I was with him at the main post office in Algiers. I tell her how people push to touch her….
“How fortunate, madam! You know, this is a legend for us, Jamila Buhired! »
I don’t doubt his sincerity for a moment. There is a partnership between us, his feelings about al-Mujahid’s name reach my heart like honey. Like old friends, we talk about everything and nothing. From the beauty of Hammamet and Oran, human rights, the Iranian women’s revolution, young people and the danger they face in social networks, Yasmina Khadra, what day owes to the night…
Djamila Bouhired was my passport to this young policeman’s heart. I read admiration in his eyes when he listened to me. Confidently, he tells me about himself, his mother, and the chance that led him to his profession: the police. Good cop. Because he never forgets his research, which he returns to again and again, in a subtle way. “I would like to attend this meeting with you and hear you speak, O so lively and intelligent. But like him, I know how to manage the art of evasion, avoiding questions that might hurt my Algerian friends. I do the same for the unheard as I do for the internet connection.
Despite the overflow of emotions, the interrogations, the detention at the airport, the Kabyle attraction, I remain clear.
– “If it is my profession that you are accusing me of, it is not a secret, it is written in my passport. Protection of human rights is my job, my duty, my life. I am the one who put me in contact with Jamila Buhired in Hirak and I know that is why you refuse to let me enter your country. He said in a low voice, “No, that’s not the reason, or we’d be a dictatorship, wouldn’t we?”
– It is up to you to find the answer to your question. »
That’s the end of our conversation. He notes on his laptop the dates of the planned meeting in Oran and the hotel where he is staying. Then he assured me it was just a computer glitch.
“The Maghreb of Great Walls”
I find my bench when another policeman asks me for my ticket. Therefore, I will be returned to the homeland. Someone else comes, after a few hours he tells me that I have the right to go and eat if I want. I’m not really hungry, but I’m looking for a network, the way he shows it. The policeman guarding the entrance of the restaurant does not take his eyes off me even for a moment. There is no connection on my phone while a man sitting a few meters away from me with his computer on speaks loudly. It is well connected. I look at him, I hope he feels my presence and understands, I put so much energy into him, my silent plea: use his car for a moment, a little. But no, he goes on about his conversation and my waves evaporate before he can.
After the meal, I grab my carry-on, grab my belongings, and follow the policeman’s instructions: “Where are we going now?
– In a quarter of an hour you will make your flight, madam.
“For the rate?”
– For Tunisia.
– So you will get rid of me, will you return me?
– Well, madam, we would like you to be with us. »
Another agent tells me: “Marhaba bik netwannssou bik, Algeria is your country madam, it is Arab Maghreb. »
– “Which Arab Maghreb, sir?” It is the Moorish of great walls. You fear me because I demand freedom and human rights. Don’t be afraid of freedom, it’s the best thing that can happen to you. »
A colleague joins us with my passport in hand: “So everything went well ma’am, I hope you didn’t miss anything?”
– I didn’t miss anything except my freedom of movement. »
He laughed as I boarded the plane. I would spend 7 hours in Algeria without leaving the airport.
By Yosra Frawes