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Habib Souaidia on his arrival in Paris (in French)
Life in a foreign land: Testimony: Algerian in exile

Security forces have fought Islamic militants for over a decade
Algerian in exile: Habib Souaidia

BBC News Online's Alexandra Fouche interviews Algerian author Habib Souaidia about his life in exile.

Once a middle-ranking officer in the Algerian army admired and respected by his contemporaries, Habib Souaidia had to leave it all behind and ended up sleeping rough, fare-dodging on trains and relying on the charity of others to survive.

"When I arrived in France, I was destroyed morally, physically I felt a little sick, psychologically I was barely holding on. I was in a terrible state. I was also afraid of this country I did not know.

Habib Souaidia
1995: Jailed for theft in a military prison
June 1999: Released from prison
April 2000: Arrives in France
March 2001: Granted political asylum
"I could not eat. I could not find any food or anything to drink or any money to buy cigarettes. I suffered a lot, from the cold particularly."

Habib Souaidia was a volunteer parachute officer in the special forces, whose job involved fighting Islamic militant groups.

He fled to France after being imprisoned in a military jail for four years on charges of theft he says were trumped up.

He subsequently wrote a highly controversial book, The Dirty War, accusing the Algerian army of torturing and killing civilians, which on some occasions he says he witnessed.

Leaving Algeria

On leaving prison, he bought a tourist visa to flee to France where he claimed political asylum.

These were moments of extreme anguish.

In his book, Habib Souaidia accused the Algerian army of killing civilians
"There was the fear of finding a passport and a visa, the fear of leaving my mother and my brothers behind, the fear of getting caught by the borders police in Algiers at the airport...

"Then I was afraid of being turned away at the border - if I had been sent back it would have meant being killed or being sent back to prison."

He arrived in France in April 2000. He had to wait eight months for asylum to be granted from the time he applied.

"During these eight months, it was like an obstacle course, and sometimes it was hard to keep going as there is no one to help you psychologically, morally or even financially...

"When you go to police stations, you witness the racism of people who have bureaucratic minds, or others who are racist and try to find ways to discourage you."

Survival

To survive during that time, Mr Souaidia relied on acquaintances and relatives living in France - even though some of them felt it was dangerous to help him.

They lent him money while he waited for his benefits to arrive - which took three months - and allowed him to spend a few nights with them, but some refused to see him.

His luck turned when he met a French journalist who took him in, fed him and lent him money when he needed it. To this day, he remains technically homeless.

I miss my country, the sunshine of my country, its soil, my friends, my [family], the way of life and its incredible simplicity.

"To find somewhere to live is practically impossible," he says. "You cannot get accommodation in a refugee centre as they are full.

"Some people suffered much more than I did. Some spent one year, two years waiting in terrible conditions. I spent eight months in terrible conditions, trying to cope with the bureaucracy... Even getting a doctor or a psychologist is very difficult."

He has not yet been able to see a psychologist, although he suffers from nightmares and flashbacks.

One doctor told him that as a former officer, he was not regarded as a victim and was ineligible for treatment.

As he became more high profile in France, the Algerian authorities visited his family and questioned some of his friends.

He is now in regular contact with them, but the majority of his family is afraid of talking to him.

He feels safe for the time being, for as long as he remains in the public eye.

But his one goal in life is to go home, he says.

"I wish it with all my heart... For me, it has become a dream, because we do not stop dreaming... I miss my country, the sunshine of my country, its soil, my friends, my [family], the way of life and its incredible simplicity.

"I do not feel at home in Paris; I am completely disoriented; I do not seem to be able to fit in or be like everyone else here."

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