Searching for Algeria's children of the mountains​

Searching for Algeria's children of the mountains​
3 min read
28 January, 2015
The government is trying to find and reintegrate hundreds of children born to Islamist fighters in the Algerian civil war of the 1990s.
An overwhelming majority of Algerians voted for an amnesty for the rebels [AFP]
The civil war in 1990s Algeria left thousands dead, and a country exhausted. Algerian militants for years hid in the country's forests as they fought against the country's military regime.

These fighters left a legacy of death, but also one of life - many were husbands and fathers who raised children in some of Algheria's most remote and inhospitable areas. They grew up without schools, hospitals, playgrounds, and toy shops. 

According to Algeria's government there are could be as many as 700 "children of the mountains" hiding with Islamist militias.

Ali Ismail, 41, was one of the fathers. Born in Belcourt in Algiers, Ismail joined the Islamic Salvation Army in Jijel, eastern Algeria, in 1993 to fight the military government. He was given permission to marry after two years of fighting, and started a family in a mountain camp set up for married couples. 

Years later Ismail was ambushed by government soldiers. "They tied me down and took my weapon. My eldest daughter was with me, and when I was arrested I told her to bring her mother, and brothers and sisters," he says. 

From there, under a government amnesty programme to bring the war to an end, the family was reintegrated into mainstream society.

     Children grew up without schools, hospitals, playgrounds, and toy shops.
The missing children

Marwan Azzi, the head of the national reconciliation commission, says there are more than 500 children still living with Islamist militias. 

"The most difficult cases of mountain children are those who had their fathers killed during anti-terrorism operations. This makes it near impossible to confirm their identities and register them with the state," Azzi says.

He says that there have been 40 cases of mountain children having passed through the rehabilitation programme, but the vast majority are still 'out of the system'.

To bring these hundreds of other missing children back into areas under government control so that they can take advantage of schools, hospitals, jobs, and other state benefits, is a massive undertaking that requires a collaborative effort from different branches of the government.

Once they are found, they will need to be identified through DNA tests, particularly orphans or those with missing fathers. The marriages of their parents also need to be recognised by the state.

Al-Hashimi Nourin, from the ministry of solidarity guesses that the number of mountain children has reached 700, many of who have never been to school.

Ismail, the former fighter, encourages others who remain hidden in Algeria's vast mountain ranges to lay down their weapons and take advantage of the government's amnesty. 

Most of all, he says, for the sake of their children who are denied a regular life while living on the run.

This article is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.