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.


Filipino expats unite as home country battles volcano’s wrath

Updated 17 January 2020

Filipino expats unite as home country battles volcano’s wrath

  • Filipino groups in Dubai are coming together to collect goods for donation for the Taal eruption victims
  • The Philippines remained on high alert on Friday as authorities monitored Taal, which is the second most active volcano in the country

DUBAI: A vast grey stretched across empty villages – once verdant, now lifeless after volcanic ash wiped its colors. The thick charcoal-like substance cloaked cracked roads, tumbled trees, and dilapidated houses, as an angry volcano rumbled in the Philippines.

Tens of thousands of people were displaced earlier this week when Taal Volcano, a picturesque tourist spot about 70 kilometers south of Manila, spew huge plume of volcanic ash to the sky and triggered sporadic tremors around the province.

“When can we go back to our homes?” a hopeful man asked Filipino volunteer Jaya Bernardo, as she visited an evacuation site near where the Taal Volcano erupted on Sunday.

She couldn’t answer him straight, Bernardo said, because that meant telling him there might not be anything to go back to.

Bernardo, who lives in a mildly-hit town around Taal, has been going around evacuation centers to give out care packages, saying it’s “important for people to come together” in times like this.

Within hours of the volcanic eruption, the call for help reached the UAE, home to about a million Filipino expats. Many community groups have been organizing donation drives to collect goods to be sent back home.

Lance Japor, who leads a community group in Dubai, said inquiries were coming in about how to help volcano victims even before a campaign was announced.

“What I’ve noticed is that the desire to help others in need is innate to us,” he told Arab News, adding it was not the first time Filipino expats showed urgent concern and care for their countrymen when a calamity hit the Philippines.

There was a strong response for families displaced from a city in the south of the country after armed rebels captured the area. A community group from Dubai flew to the restive city to hand out gifts to families who had taken refuge in an abandoned building.

Japor’s volcano campaign has attracted the help of private companies such as hotels donating blankets and pillows, and cargo companies pledging to deliver the packages for free to the Philippines.

Filipino expats have also expressed a desire to volunteer, Japor added, and a volunteer event has been scheduled for Jan. 18 at the Philippines’ Overseas Workers Welfare Administration’s office in Dubai.

Groups in the UAE are working with organizations in the Philippines to facilitate the donations and determine what the affected communities need. The list includes special face masks and eye drops, said Japor.

The Philippines remained on high alert on Friday as authorities monitored Taal, which is the second most active volcano in the country.

Volcanic ash has blanketed the area and villages lie empty, with authorities warning of a “bigger eruption” as earthquakes were still being felt around the area. 

The region was at alert level four from the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology, meaning that “hazardous explosive eruption is possible within hours to days.” The highest alert level is five.

The institute strongly reiterated total evacuation of Taal Volcano Island and high-risk areas as identified in hazard maps.

“Residents around Taal Volcano are advised to guard against the effects of heavy and prolonged ashfall. Civil aviation authorities must advise pilots to avoid the airspace around Taal Volcano as airborne ash and ballistic fragments from the eruption column pose hazards to aircraft,” it added.

Police in the area have also warned residents against trying to go back to their houses without official clearance from authorities, but local media reports said people were sneaking back by boat to the island and nearby towns to check on their possessions.