A look at how bitterness provoked by the Algerian war still fuels resentment between France and its Muslim community.
Algiers – Sofiane Chakki, a 34-year-old entrepreneur who was born and raised in a suburb of Paris, did not expect to live in his parents’ native land.
For the past four years, however, he has been commuting back and forth from Algiers to Paris several times a month. “I spend most of my time in Algeria, where I work, and frequently visit my family in France. I have been satisfied with this arrangement so far,” Chakki told Al Jazeera. His parents originally come from Bordj Bou Arreridj, a city 200km east of Algeria’s capital.
Chakki did not plan to move to Algiers. “I had no such plan when I was a student. But in 2007, while I was working for an American consulting firm, I made a business trip to Algeria. That was a thrilling experience. In 2011, I quit my job to become an entrepreneur. I came back to Algiers to co-create Paymed Consulting, a firm specialising in human resources,” he explained.
Although Chakki hesitates on whether to live full-time in Algiers, 27-year-old Mohammed Touil has made his choice. He moved to the Algerian capital about a year ago to launch a warehouse for Jumia, a Nigerian e-commerce startup.
Touil said that he decided to migrate to be closer to his roots. “Life in France for Muslims is not convenient. And here, I’m close to my family, who stay in Mostaganem [360km west of Algiers],” said Touil, a graduate of Paris Dauphine University and managing director of Jumia’s warehouse.
While much of Algeria’s youth still dreams of moving to Europe, an increasing number of French-born Algerians have moved to Algiers over the past decade.
“This migration trend is undoubtedly growing,” said Emmanuelle Santelli, a sociologist and senior researcher at the National Centre for Scientific Research.
What we can say for sure is that more and more French citizens descending from Algerian families are interested in investing in their country of origin.
Giulia Fabbiano, an anthropologist at the School for Advanced Studies in Social Sciences, told Al Jazeera that a lack of statistics means that it is impossible to know how many second-generation immigrants have moved to Algeria.
“However,” she said, “what we can say for sure is that more and more French citizens descending from Algerian families are interested in investing in their country of origin.”
The number of French Algerians migrating south declined during the civil-war-ravaged 1990s, known in Algeria as the Black Decade. But the country’s economic liberalisation in the early 2000s helped reverse this decline.
“French-born Algerians who have decided to settle down in Algeria since the mid-2000s are mainly young graduates seeking to both achieve personal development and maximise their potential,” Fabbiano said.
Given France’s stagnant economy, some have begun to see Algeria as a place of relative opportunity. “Here, we don’t find difficulties to get a job,” said Lamia Boudoudou, a French-Algerian businesswoman.
The reason Boudoudou left France is the same one cited by many other France-to-Algeria migrants. “Everything remains to be done in Algeria. It doesn’t take a long time to develop a successful business here. For instance, my start-up took off after only 18 months, whereas it needs three years, at least, in France,” said Boudoudou, who created Ladies Business Club, an events agency, in 2010.
In France, Boudoudou, who dropped out of school and worked at a fast-food restaurant to support her family, never dreamed of founding her own start-up. She said she was upset by the discrimination she faced while living in Grenoble, which was one reason she set out for Algiers.
“I expected a promotion, but the owner of the restaurant made it clear that I would not get it because my name is Lamia. This is why I decided to settle where I would not be ashamed of my name,” Boudoudou explained. “Whatever we do, we remain ‘Beurs’,” she added, referencing the pejorative term for French people of North African descent.
Life in Algeria presents new challenges, too, however. Many French-Algerians who migrate, especially women, struggle to adapt to a different lifestyle.
“We are not seen as Algerian, nor as expats, due to the fact that we can’t really speak the Algerian dialect or read it, but we are able to understand it. Besides, we don’t share the same codes, particularly regarding women’s rights. Actually, I had to launch my own business to feel at home,” Boudoudou said.
“Now that I have the last word on everything – recruiting, training, strategy – I am much more comfortable.”
When asked what they missed the most, many who have migrated give the same answer: the wide variety of cultural activities available elsewhere.
Chakki commented on an annual human resources survey released by his firm, Paymed Consulting, saying: “Compared with Morocco or Tunisia, the quality of life in Algeria is a problem for both foreigners and foreign-born Algerians. On average, the expatriates spend 36 months in Morocco and usually ask to stay longer, whereas the expats quit Algeria after only 18 months.”
However, migration to Algeria may persist in light of the Algerian government’s efforts to encourage the diaspora to invest. Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s programme for the 2014 presidential election included 14 legislative proposals concerning the seven million Algerians living abroad, according to the Algerian International Diaspora Association.
The proposals entailed boosting the diaspora’s investment in Algeria, and since last January Algerians living abroad now qualify for micro-enterprise funding administered by the National Agency for Employment Support of Youth.
With global oil prices low, Algeria – a major producer – has hopes that the diaspora can help diversify its economy.
But the Algerian government has not always been willing to welcome foreign-born nationals.
“In less than 10 years, the political discourse towards the diaspora has profoundly changed,” Fabbiano said. “In 2006, President Bouteflika openly criticised the binational population, claiming that the foreign-born Algerians should stop despising us. Now, Algeria looks forward to attracting the diaspora, emulating Morocco’s model.”
How long will they stay? Will they eventually return to France, or head on to a third country? Many French-born Algerians living in Algeria are still figuring out what their future will look like.
“None of them plans yet to move for good to Algeria,” noted Fabbiano. “This experience is a springboard for pursuing an international career. Some may be interested in visiting other emerging countries.”
“I don’t know where I will live in five years,” Chakki said. “But what I know for sure now is that I will still be an entrepreneur.”
Similarly, Touil said: “I want to spend my younger life somewhere else and come back when I’ll be older.”