On the 6th of August 2012, Algerian online newspapers and social networking sites reported the rape of a 26 year old Syrian woman who had sought refuge in Oran, having fled from Homs as a result of the on-going crisis in Syria. Local police and other national newspapers very quickly denied the story, stating that it was a ‘rumour’. Generally speaking, rape survivors remain meticulously hidden within the patriarchal dominant discourse of Algerian society in which gender-related violence is often denied and is embedded in a culture of disbelief.
The news was embarrassing and shameful for Oran, a city well-known for its established welcoming and reputation for hospitality, upheld by its local population.
Despite the 2,100 miles separating Homs from Oran, since the beginning of the Syrian crisis in July 2012, hundreds of Syrian refugees have entered the second biggest Algerian city. The UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) claims that more than 2.1 million Syrians are now hosted in the North African region, placing an unprecedented strain on communities, infrastructure and services. According to the Algerian Ministry of the Interior, 12,000 refugees are in Algeria, yet only 400 are registered in Algiers. Local support groups dispute this number, suggesting the higher total of 20,000. Women and children make up around 80% of this refugee population. The majority have no means of supporting themselves, having only the few economic resources which they brought with them in a hurry.
Women’s experiences of being forced to flee
In the summer of 2012, I was in Algeria conducting fieldwork for my PhD and went to meet Syrian women in the city of Oran. ‘We came from Homs to Algiers first, via Jordan’, explained a young woman in La rue Monpat, a relatively poor area,’We stayed three months there in the camps…I knew a Syrian family here who told me Oran would be better, people are very open minded and known for their hospitality’. She showed me an ID card delivered by the Algerian authorities, which, she said, would be renewed within 90 days.