ALGIERS—On the night of February 6, Nacéra Bekkouche, a 24-year-old sociology major at the University of Algiers, died in a fire that broke out in the dormitory room she shared with another student.
The tragic accident has shed light on poor safety conditions and a lack of services at university housing units in Algeria and has prompted thousands of students to demonstrate against government and university officials, whom they blame for allowing facilities to fall into disrepair over decades of neglect.
The fire that killed Bekkouche, who was from the central Algerian province of Tiaret, was ignited by a short circuit in an electric stove she and her roommate used for cooking and heating. The roommate suffered second-degree burns.
While some people regard the accident as an isolated event, the student protesters say it is directly linked to official neglect of student’s living conditions and basic needs.
The protests continued even after the dismissal of Haji Saifuddin, director of the university housing unit where the fire took place, two days after the accident, and the dismissal of Bachir Derouaz, director general of the National Bureau for University Services.
Lack of Fire-Safety Systems
“I hope that the student protests after Nacéra Bekkouche’s death will be a reason to reform the university services sector and address the poor services in light of the government’s abandonment of its interest in facilitating students’ living conditions,” said Moustafa Belakef, the public relations coordinator at the National Union of Algerian Students.
Belakef pointed out that the lack of services in university housing complexes forces students to set up their own means of cooking in their rooms, exposing them to accidents and fire hazards, especially in the absence fire extinguishers and other fire-safety devices in the dorms.
The Algerian authorities closed the housing unit where Bekkouche died, on a campus for women in a suburb of Algiers, and placed it under restoration and maintenance. However, students believe that the maintenance and restoration process should extend to all university housing units.