Paris riots: Information on immigrants and the suburbs, 2005

Ni patrie ni frontières give background information on migration and race in French society and in relation to the suburbs. Written in the aftermath of the Paris suburb riots of 2005.

Submitted by Steven. on January 11, 2010

France has always been a country of immigration. Between 1851 and 1911, the percentage of immigrants rose from to 1 percent to 3 percent of French population. These immigrants were mainly Belgian, Italian and Spanish. In the 20th century, the first important wave of immigration took place between 1920 and 1930. So the percentage of immigrants rose from 3 to 6.6 percent in 1931. In the 1930s, there was an important arrival of Polish workers (600,000) and Spanish people (500,000) after the defeat of the Spanish Revolution.

These numbers can give the impression that Muslims were not an important religious minority in France before the Second World War. But one must take into account the French Empire (Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia but also Western and Central Africa). Until the independence, in 1962, Algeria was considered as a French department (i.e. a part of French territory and nation); but the Algerians were not French citizens so they were deprived of the right to vote.

They were called Muslims, but that word described them as an ethnic, not as a religious group. This is why in Algeria you had the strange concept of "Christian Muslims". The non-recognition of Muslim religion by the French state has therefore a long history. After the Second World War the percentage of immigrants rose from 4.4 percent in 1945 to 6.6 percent in 1975. So it reached more or less the level of the 1930s. This percentage has not changed much in the last 30 years: today immigrants represent 7.4 percent of the French population.

To appreciate exactly how many foreigners live in France, it is necessary to make a distinction between foreigners and immigrants. An immigrant is somebody who was born abroad and came to France but may become French rather quickly. A foreigner is somebody who has a foreign passport and therefore is not a French citizen.

Immigrants regularly become French and their children are automatically "naturalized" if they are born in France. That’s why we can consider the question of immigration from three different points of views, which give way to 3 different statistics, which fit into each other like Russian puppets. In France there are: 3,6 million foreigners, or 4,3 million immigrants, or 6,1 million persons living in a family where either the father or the mother is a migrant.

The main "non European nationalities" are roughly: Algerians: 600,000 - Moroccans: 600,000 - Tunisians: 200,000 - Turks: 200,000 - Africans: 300,000 (the African population has tripled between 1982 and 1990, and once more doubled since then). The main "European" communities are: Portu­guese: 600,000 - Italians: 200,000 - Spanish: 200,000.

In we take into account all the immigrants the non Europeans represent today 55 percent and the Europeans 45 percent. Since 1990 the non European migrants represent therefore a small majority of the immigrant population.

To these immigrants one must add those who are French by birth but come from the French DOM-TOM: Guadeloupe, Martinique, Polynesia, New Caledonia. The 400,000 French West Indians represent an important fraction of the poorly-qualified employees of the public sector (postal services and hospitals). But none of them is considered as a migrant!

The percentage of women among immigrants is much higher than before 1974 because the frontiers have been closed in July 1974 for "non Europeans" and only family immigration and asylum seekers are allowed to enter. This element can explain why the problem of the hijab has taken more importance recently, but that’s not the only reason and probably not the main one.

Important discriminations
Immigrants coming from the "South" are victims of all sorts of discriminations as the statistics show. They are mainly employed in the car industry, building industry, cleaning sector and hospitals in lowly-paid jobs. 20 percent of the non-qualified workers are foreigners. 46 percent of foreigners are workers (as opposed to 26 percent of French people). 80 percent of the Turks are workers, 50 percent of the Algerians and Tunisians belong to the working class.

These discriminations had also affected the previous waves of immigration but it did not give birth to a religious movement of protest, because the majority of the Italian, Polish and Spanish immigrants were sharing the same religion as the dominant one in France: catholicism, but it probably not the case of the North Africans.

Part-time jobs and unemployment 42 percent of migrant women have a part-time job as opposed to 31 percent of French women. 20 percent of migrant men are unemployed as opposed to 10 percent of French men. 23 percent of migrant women are unemployed as opposed to 14 percent of French women.

Rate of unemployment (year 2000) according to the nationality

Born in France: 11 percent - Born abroad but naturalized: 14 percent - Algerians: 30.8 percent - Moroccans: 35.8 percent - Tunisians: 19.5 percent - Other Africans: 25.6 percent Marriages

40 percent of the African migrants are Muslim. Polygamy is practiced only among the Mandés who represent 25 percent of the African immigrants. 50 percent of the boys and 25 percent of the girls born in Algeria but living in France marry with a French citizen whose two parents were born in France. Turkish men and women rarely marry French citizens, even they have been brought up in France.

Suburb population
The suburbs were not specially constructed for migrants or to hide (as I read in an American newspaper) "the coloured populations" from the White French working class! The estates were constructed to receive three different kinds of populations:

- the former French farmers who became workers in the 1950s and 1960s (remember that France was still a country where the majority of the population lived and worked on the countryside in 1945),

- the former settlers ("Pieds Noirs") of Algeria when they arrived after 1963 as well as the "harkis"

- the foreign workers when they came to work and live with their families (if not,they were housed in shanty towns, or overpopulated "foyers" for singles).

The mass of the population living in French suburbs was and is not composed mainly of migrants or foreigners coming from the "post-colonial world". It is composed of workers.

In 2002, 32 percent of migrant families lived in their own house, 66 percent in collective buildings (private or state owned) and 2 percent in hotel rooms, "provisional buildings" (trailers, slums, barracks on building sites).

Migrant families (with either a migrant father or mother as the head of the family, the other being either French, either also a migrant) represent only 18 percent of the population of 4,7 million people living in the ZUS (Sensitive Urban Zones: working class areas, generally in the suburbs) and only 16 percent of the persons living in the state-owned estates.

These statistics show that the medias don’t know what they are talking about when they compare French state or private-owned estates with American ghettos.

One can have the impression that these estates are mainly populated by migrants only if one focuses on some "mono-ethnic" buildings: one tower with mainly Africans, another building with mainly Turks, one street with a majority of West Indians, etc. But basically, until now, French and foreign workers mix in all the senses of the word, geographical and social. The rate of so-called "inter-ethnical" marriages (50 percent for the North Africans, for example) in France after 50 years of presence can’t be compared with the American one (7 percent for Black men, 2.5 percent for Black women) after several centuries. This situation may change in the future, but that remains to be seen.


[prol-position news #5 | 2/2006]