Algerian football fans touch off national identity debate in France

Algerian supporters celebrate in Guillotiere district in Lyon, central eastern France after the victory of their team over Nigeria during the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (CAN) semi-final football match, on July 14, 2019. (File/AFP)
Updated 19 July 2019

Algerian football fans touch off national identity debate in France

  • Algeria play Senegal in the final of the African Cup of Nations on Friday evening
  • Around 2,500 police officers will be mobilized around the Champs-Elysees and Arc de Triomphe

PARIS: Thousands of extra French police are set to be on duty later Friday in Paris and other major cities following clashes involving Algerian football fans that have touched off a debate about national identity.

Algeria play Senegal in the final of the African Cup of Nations on Friday evening with excitement high in France which is home to a huge Algerian-origin population due to the country’s colonial history.

Thousands of people partied in the streets when Algeria won its quarter-final on July 11 and then again for the semifinal on July 14, but the celebrations were later marred by pillaging and street clashes. “I call on people celebrating, even if I understand their joy, to behave themselves,” Paris police chief Didier Lallement told a press conference on Wednesday.

Around 2,500 police officers will be mobilized around the Champs-Elysees and Arc de Triomphe where crowds set off fireworks and flew flags from car windows last Sunday, which was also France’s national Bastille Day.Clashes with police in the early hours, following pillaging the week before, saw more than 200 people arrested, leading to condemnation from the police and government, as well as far-right politicians.

The fact that the semifinal coincided with Bastille Day, which celebrates the French republic and its armed forces, irked nationalist politicians in particular who worry about the effects of immigration. “Like lots of French people, I was shocked to see French people take down the French flag and put up the Algerian one,” far-right politician Nicolas Dupont-Aignan said on Friday morning.

Dupont-Aignan said the French-born Algeria fans, many of whom have dual nationality, could “go back” to north Africa if their preference was for Algeria. “I want to ask these young people, who are a minority I hope: France has welcomed you, fed you, educated you, looked after you, but if you prefer Algeria, if it’s better than France, go back to Algeria!"

Violence has flared in France in the past after major football games involving Algeria including during World Cup games in 2014, which led far-right leader Marine Le Pen to propose stripping rioters of their French nationality.

“Their victories are our nightmare,” a spokesperson for Le Pen’s National Rally party, Sebastien Chenu, said Monday. “Whenever there’s a match with Algeria... there are problems.”

A France-Algeria friendly in 2001 in Paris saw the French national anthem copiously booed in what was the first meeting on the pitch between the countries since Algeria’s independence in 1962 following 130 years of French rule.

The National Rally has called for Algeria fans to be barred from the Champs-Elysees on Friday, a demand dismissed as impractical and unfair by the Paris police force. “For me, the people coming to the Champs-Elysees are joyous citizens,” police chief Lallement told the press conference.

Others have pointed out that the overwhelming majority of fans marked Algeria’s last two victories in the Africa Cup peacefully and that many Franco-Algerians feel free to celebrate the successes of both countries. “We are saddened by the events of July 14,” Faiza Menai from Debout l’Algerie, a collective that unites members of the Algerian diaspora in France, told AFP on Thursday.

She recalled that France had seen six months of violent demonstrations during the so-called “yellow vest” protests against the government, which were supported by Le Pen and other far-right groups. The football violence was caused by not only by Algerians, she said, and was the result of an angry minority living frustrated lives in low-income and neglected suburban areas that ring French cities.

“It’s a pity that there are people who show up just to cause trouble. As in the case of the yellow vests, you have these young guys who missed the point — they come in from the suburbs and take advantage of the situation to get their revenge,” she said.

Her group plans to send out volunteers in florescent orange vests to the Champs Elysees to “try to limit the damage by raising awareness among supporters and lending a hand to authorities.”

Azouz Begag, a novelist and former minister in France’s government in 2005-2007, called on fellow Franco-Algerians to “state again after the match against Senegal that they are in their home in France, that they pay taxes and are voters.“The public spaces of the republic are theirs,” he wrote in Le Monde.

Desperate migrants jump off rescue ship, seeking Italy

Updated 42 min 27 sec ago

Desperate migrants jump off rescue ship, seeking Italy

  • The migrantsl were seeking the shores of Lampedusa, a short distance away from the anchored ship
  • Live video showed people wearing life vests floating in the sea

MILAN: At least 15 more migrants jumped into the sea Tuesday from the Open Arms rescue ship in desperate bids to reach the shores of Italy after 19 days on the boat in deteriorating conditions as Italy refuses to open its ports.
With the situation on board described by Open Arms as “out of control” and “desperate” over Italy’s repeated refusal to allow the migrants into the southern island of Lampedusa, Spain said it was dispatching a naval ship to escort the aid group’s boat and its passengers to a port in the Spanish island of Mallorca.
“After analyzing all the options, this is the most adequate and the one that would allow resolving within this week the humanitarian emergency on board the Open Arms,” the statement said.
But the journey of the Audaz warship from its base in southern Spain to Lampedusa is expected to last three days, adding to the ordeal of the migrants.
Dozens of them have been evacuated in recent days because they were underage or ill, but 83 remain on board.
That was after one migrant jumped off the ship early on Tuesday and was rescued by the Italian coast guard, followed by two groups of nine and five more who launched themselves into the sea wearing orange life vests.
All were seeking the shores of Lampedusa, a short distance away from the anchored ship.
A reporter with the Spanish public broadcaster TVE said the first jumper refused to return to the Open Arms and was brought to Lampedusa instead, prompting others to follow his lead. The reporter said those jumping were “desperate and going mad” after 19 days trapped on board.
Live video showed people wearing life vests floating in the sea, some in groups and some individually, with a coast guard vessel nearby and rubber dinghies trying to reach them.
Open Arms said the Italian coast guard rescued all 15 jumpers and brought them to Lampedusa.
A spokeswoman for the charity, Laura Lanuza, said she heard from Open Arms crew members that “those who remain aboard are threatening to jump as well.” The Open Arms captain previously informed Italian authorities that the crew of 17 can no longer control the situation on board, as frustrated migrants resort to fighting.
Italy’s hard-line interior minister, Matteo Salvini, has refused port access to the ship, even though six other European countries have agreed to take in the migrants, who were rescued at sea in early August off the coast of Libya.
Italy’s transport minister, Danilo Toninelli, said on social media that he has been in touch with Spanish officials to demand that “they do everything to stop the NGO.” He did not specify what he expects Spain to do, and Spain said it was awaiting clarification.
Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte announced last week that six nations — Spain, Portugal, Germany, France, Romania and Luxembourg — had offered to take the migrants aboard Open Arms.
But in his post, Toninelli complained those countries were waiting until the migrants were on land “and then they will see.”
Impasses involving Italy’s refusal to allow migrant ships to dock started immediately after the populist coalition of the League and the 5-Star Movement took office last June. In the first, a ship made the long trip to Spain with 630 migrants after Madrid opened its ports.
But Spain has changed its approach since then, saying that international marine laws and EU regulations require that rescued people need to be taken to the closest and safest port. It also says that EU members need to find a long-lasting solution for dealing with migration that doesn’t rely so much on just the Mediterranean countries.
Open Arms sailed within a few hundred meters of Lampedusa last week after Interior Minister Matteo Salvini’s ban on private rescue boats entering Italy’s waters was overturned by a court. Salvini has appealed that ruling and warned that his ban on docking still holds.
Meanwhile, the Norwegian-flagged Ocean Viking, which is operated by two French humanitarian groups and has 356 rescued migrants aboard, has been sailing between Malta and the Italian island of Linosa as it waits for a port of safety to be assigned.
Italy’s standoff with Open Arms has further raised tensions in the country’s failing ruling coalition, as Cabinet members from the 5-Star Movement, including the defense and transport ministers, increasingly question the handling of the rescue ship by Salvini, leader of the right-wing League party.
Toninelli said other European countries were turning their backs on Italy “and there is one person responsible: Matteo Salvini, who has weakened the government and as a consequence our position in Europe.”