This article explores the ways people targeted by restrictive migration and
mobility policies in Algeria experience, interpret, and contest them. It focuses on the perspective of harragas, literally “those who burn” the borders. In the Maghrebi dialects, this is notably how people leaving without documentation are referred to. It reflects the fact that they do not respect the mandatory steps for legal departure. Also, they figuratively “burn” their papers to avoid deportation once in Europe. Drawing on
qualitative fieldwork, this article outlines the complex and ambiguous attitudes toward the legal mobility regime of those it aims to exclude: compliance, deception, delegitimization, and defiance. It contributes to debates about human experiences of borders and inequality in mobility regimes. It helps deepen knowledge on why restrictive migration
and mobility policies fail and are often counterproductive, encouraging the undocumented migration they were meant to deter.