By Mouna Sadek
From protesters setting themselves on fire to illegal immigration and violence, psychologists are trying to understand the problems affecting young Algerians.
The Association for Psychological Support, Research and Betterment (SARP) examined the issue at a two-day conference that wrapped up February 26th in Algiers. The event, “Young people caught between life problems and plans for the future”, sought to shed light on the challenges facing today’s youth.
Cherifa Bouatta, a professor of psychology and the vice-president of SARP, talked about the phenomenon of self-immolations. She said these incidents were symptomatic of a profound crisis affecting society. In her opinion, young people have come up against a group of people who become wealthy in an unethical manner and break the law with disregard for the consequences.
“The law leads to lawlessness or a perverse kind of law, which divides the world into two: the haves, who include people-smugglers and people who ‘succeed’ by virtue of having friends in the right places, and the have-nots,” she told Magharebia.
Bouatta believes this leaves young people with two options: rebelling or destroying themselves. “They want to send out a message. They tend to confront the privileged men against whom they cannot do anything. They want to show that they, too, are capable of something,” she argued.
Psychologist Nourredine Khaled believes that illegal migration is another form of “anti-establishment” behaviour that stems from not having the opportunity to integrate into society.
“To argue that illegal migration is an act of despair is to oversimplify a complex phenomenon,” he stressed. “We think that for these young people, it is one of the few options open to them if they want to build identities for themselves and try to become men. This is why it is not a destructive movement despite the risk of death that awaits them, but rather an extreme method of self-actualisation.”
Khaled, who conducted a survey on this subject for SARP, underlined that most of those who seek to emigrate illegally are aged between 14 and 26. He added 68.47% were minors and 31.5% young adults. Almost all harragas are male. Nearly half come from the central region of the country, 41% come from western Algeria and 11% come from the east of the country.
Emigrating on a makeshift boat is a form of violence against oneself and a “reaction of powerlessness” that is triggered when people feel they have no future, according to Hallouma Cherif, a psychology professor at the University of Oran.
“Are they not just positioning themselves on the oldest of all ability scales – the one that views danger and risk-taking as a way of asserting masculinity and not looking like a girl?” she asked.
All too often, disappointment lies in store for them when they reach the other side of the sea, said Sylvie Dutertre, a clinical psychologist who gives psychological support to minors living illegally in Marseilles.
“Discovering the reality of life in France damages their ego,” she said. “We see situations where young people abscond, trauma of various kinds and depressive episodes. Only once they have been taken in and protected by child welfare officers, do they allow themselves to fall apart, as it were.”
Dutertre said the depressive episodes often end with young people taking mind-altering drugs or harming themselves.
In her view, the phenomenon of emigration is being perpetuated by the myth kept alive by émigrés who return to their homeland for the holidays bringing chocolates and small gifts. Teenagers see émigrés as “heroes”. When they look at the horizon, she explained, they think of a “fantasy land”.
Faouzia, a clinical psychologist who attended the conference, analysed the importance of involving psychologists in the public debate. “Very often”, she said, “people try to speak on behalf of young Algerians without even trying to understand them. That’s why psychologists should be included in this kind of debate.”