Migrant Lives

A New Migrant Gateway On Algeria’s Western Border

Algerian authorities have been accused of harsh treatment of asylum seekers.

A New Migrant Gateway On Algeria’s Western Border
Giacomo Tognini

MAGHNIA — The banks of the Wadi Jorgi river valley in western Algeria are littered with the remains of shacks built from branches, plastic, and sheet metal. The sprawling informal camp is home to hundreds of migrants from across Africa who are part of a growing wave of people crossing into Algeria from the nearby Moroccan border.

This latest twist in the African migrant itinerary was described in a recent reportage by the Algiers-based daily El Watan . Once the migrants arrive in the border town of Maghnia, some hope to take the "Algerian" route across the Mediterranean into Europe or instead detour through Algeria's eastern neighbor, Libya. Many instead choose to settle in Algeria but remain undocumented workers in the eyes of Algerian authorities.

Known locally as the "Maghnia Ghetto," what was once a bustling community was burned to the ground in early March, but the perpetrators have yet to be identified. All that survived was a small village of a dozen huts nestled at the foot of a hill near the dried-up river. "Our land was burned at night, but we managed to move uphill and build these tents for ourselves," Abdullah, a resident from Cameroon, told El Watan.

Photo: Ppm90sd/Wikimedia Commons

The Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights (LADDH) and Human Rights Watch have both criticized the conduct of Algerian security forces, accusing them of rounding up migrants and housing them in detention camps or deporting them to dangerous regions like northern Mali. According to LADDH, the Algerian police has expelled at least 2,000 migrants since the beginning of the year, denying them the right to seek asylum in Algeria.

We would love to live here.

While some migrants have abandoned their plans of trying to reach Europe, via Spain or Italy, others are digging in. "We will stop migrating when the West stops deciding for us," says Moussa, another resident in the camp. "We live surrounded by rubbish and reptiles, with no access to water, healthcare, or electricity. We would love to be able to live in this town, but we are isolated and rejected here."

LADDH estimates there are around 60,000 irregular immigrants in Algeria, most of them working in factories in Algiers and Oran. The Algerian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has justified the expulsions as lawful repatriations, part of a wider set of coordinated measures with other countries in western Africa including Niger and Mali.

For those who still call the Wadi Jorgi camp home, there is little hope of their ordeal ending anytime soon. "I just hope that the Algerian authorities accept us and regularize our status," says Fadack Mboualé Franck Basile to El Watan. "I was sent here from Paris after living there for 15 years. I will never lose hope, I will either go back to France or I will make a life here for me and my family."

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Economy

Air Next: How A Crypto Scam Collapsed On A Single Spelling Mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money but the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors.

Sky is the crypto limit

Laurence Boisseau

PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.

Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.


Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.

Share capital of one billion 

The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).

The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.

Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.

While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.

screenshot of the typo that revealed the Air Next scam

The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down

compta online

Raising Initial Coin Offering 

Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.

For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".

Finding culprits 

Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.

Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.

Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.

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