Descendants of those deported by Paris to the Pacific archipelago are asking Algiers for Algerian citizenship

Algerians in New Caledonia, far from the priorities of Algeria and France

AFP/LUDOVIC MARIN - French President Emmanuel Macron and Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune in Algiers

The situation of Algerians deported to New Caledonia by French troops between 1864 and 1897 remains absent from the agendas of Algiers and Paris despite being one of the main issues of the French colonial era in the North African country.

According to data collected by AFP, an estimated 2,100 Algerians were tried by special or military tribunals and deported to penal colonies in the Paris-administered Pacific archipelago during those years. However, Algerian sources speak of some 300,000 people. Their crime? Participating in uprisings against the French occupation.

The convicts were transported to a territory more than 18,000 kilometres away in boats similar to those used by African slave traders. As historians and researchers point out, thousands died on the way due to the appalling conditions of the ships and the lack of medicines to fight disease. 


"The number of people who were thrown overboard during the crossing is unknown," Taieb Aifa, the son of one of the last deportees to the colony in 1898, told AFP. His father, sentenced to 25 years, fought against French troops in Sétif, eastern Algeria.

Aifa points out that Algerians were chained in the holds of the ships during the five-month voyage. He regrets that for many years it was taboo to talk about the deportations: "A code of silence reigned in the families of the deportees," he says.

Christophe Sand, another descendant of the deportees, also points out that Algerians were considered second-class citizens, as most of them did not speak French, but Arabic or Berber. 


Once they had served their sentences, many were unable to return to Algeria and never saw their families again. "My grandfather left two sons in Algeria whom he never saw again," laments Maurice Sotirio, the grandson of a deportee from Constantine, a town in northwestern Algeria, quoted by the news agency.

According to Algerian sources, more than 20,000 Algerians currently reside in New Caledonia. Some have visited the land of their ancestors, a journey described by Sand as a "healing process" to "build a future" in New Caledonia. "Recovering from the trauma of exile allows us to project ourselves into the future without remaining prisoners of the past," he told AFP.  


Descendants have founded several associations such as 'Arabs and Friends of Arabs in New Caledonia' and 'Descendants of Exile' to raise awareness of the deportations. Hassan Belardi, who heads one of these organisations, has also urged Abdelmadjid Tebboune's government to grant Algerian citizenship to the descendants of the deportees. As Belardi explains to Asharq al-Awsat, in 2015 they first asked for citizenship and facilities to move to "the land of the ancestors", but received no response. Therefore, every year, during Independence Day, they reiterate their request.

An Algerian government source revealed to the Arabic newspaper that Algiers "is interested" in accepting the recognition of the descendants of the deportees as full Algerians. Similarly, on the occasion of Independence Day 2021, state television broadcast a documentary on the grandchildren of the deportees asking the government for citizenship. However, more than a year later, there is still no change in their situation. "So far, Algeria has been content with mere references to the issue," notes Al-Arab.  


Last July, on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of Algerian independence, Tebboune unveiled a mural in tribute to Algerians deported by France. As the Algerian news agency APS reports, the mural is intended to 'express the gratitude of Algerians and their loyalty to their brothers deported to New Caledonia, Guyana (South America), Marguerittes (France), the countries of the Levant and Brazzaville (Africa)'.