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February 11, 2019

Algerian brain drain pre-election headache for govt


February 11, 2019

ALGIERS: No matter who wins Algeria’s presidential election, 29-year-old cardiologist Moumen Mohamed plans to seek his fortune elsewhere.

He is one of a growing number of young, educated Algerians who are looking for work in Europe or the Gulf to escape the low salaries imposed by a state-dominated economy at home.

The exodus of doctors, engineers and other highly skilled workers is a headache for a government hoping to engage with its largely youthful electorate ahead of the vote on April 18. President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, 81, has not said if he will seek a fifth term, although the ruling FLN party, labor unions and business leaders are urging him on.

For young professionals, the question is scarcely relevant. Many feel disconnected from an elite populated by the veterans of Algeria’s 1954-1962 war of independence from France, an era they only know about from their grandparents.

They want to pursue their careers but feel discouraged by a system that offers low-paid jobs and little opportunity to better themselves. “I have already done my paperwork to migrate,” said Moumen, the cardiologist, who works at a state hospital. “I am waiting for a response.”

Nearly 15,000 Algerian doctors work in France now and 4,000 submitted applications to leave their home country last year, according to official figures. The government does not accept all the blame.

“The press has exaggerated the phenomenon ... it is a problem for all Algerians, not just the government,” Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia said in response to a reporter’s question about young doctors leaving. But in Europe doctors can earn ten times what hey get in Algeria, a socialist economy where medical professionals are paid little more than less skilled public employees.

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