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Young Algerians, struggling to find opportunities, look to Europe for a better future

President Bouteflika is pledging $150 billion to create jobs. Algerian young people – an estimated 70 percent of whom can't find work – are getting impatient.

By Liam StackCorrespondent of The Christian Science Monitor / May 15, 2009

Algiers, Algeria

Jamal sits inside a brightly lit cafe one recent rainy day, watching cars splash through puddle-strewn potholes in the working class neighborhood of Douera. Al Jazeera played on a muted TV above the counter, while nearby three bloated goldfish bobbed in the murky water of an aquarium.

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A quiet man in his early thirties, he frequently finds refuge here. In the middle of the day, the cafe is crowded with other young men watching TV, chatting, or just staring into space. Like Jamal, they are part of the mass of unemployed young people in Algeria.

Many say that, despite their love for their country, they have lost faith that Algeria can provide them with good jobs – or even a good life. They long to move overseas in search of better opportunities, saying they feel held back at home by deep-seated corruption that ensures only the well-connected get ahead.

The government says tackling unemployment and convincing people to stay are high on its agenda, but few ordinary Algerians are convinced their leaders are committed to providing opportunities for everyone.

For Jamal, who would not give his last name, it is a moot point. He has decided that Algeria is not for him.

He left school at age 14 to work on a construction site, but almost 20 years later has little to show for his labor. He cannot afford to marry, and today only has intermittent work as a handyman and house painter. He says he does not have enough connections, or piston, to find well-paid work.

"I have tried to have a steady life here but it is impossible," he says. "If you don't know someone rich or important you can never find a good job."

Jamal wants to join the millions of Algerians who have traveled abroad – mainly to Europe – in search of a better life. Most go to France, Algeria's former colonial ruler, which is home to roughly 700,000 Algerians, according to the French National Institute of Statistics.

But Jamal dreams of joining his brother in Italy, where he moved in 1989 to work as a housepainter.

"My older brother is there, and he has a family and kids," he says. "He is happy there, and if I could just go there and find a job I am sure I would be happy too."

In fact, he thinks leaving the country may be the only way he can be happy.

"There is no future here," he says. "My future is in Italy."

Creating jobs a 'difficult challenge'

In the run-up to this April's presidential election, incumbent and eventual winner Abdelaziz Bouteflika pledged $150 billion for a job creation program that was short on details, but promised to create three million jobs over the next five years.