France and its minorities

Alphia Abdikeeva, Centro de Investigaciones en Derechos Humanos

It seems just so recently France was shaken by immigrant youth riots. Back in October 2005, thousands of young people of North African descent — predominantly Muslim and overwhelmingly disenfranchised — rebelled against perceived brutality and racism of the French police. Several cities of France were literally on fire, while the nation watched in disbelief. The shock was evidently not just at the extent of violence, but also at the sudden realization that the nation was deeply divided along the racial/ethnic/religious lines.

Although the riots did not end too well for many immigrants (some were imprisoned, others were deported), France finally had to face the reality of becoming a de facto multiethnic state where “egalité” and “fraternité” were but remote ideals. In a way, the riots and ensuing crackdowns became an opportunity in disguise for critically reassessing the issues of immigration, integration, racism, discrimination and equality of opportunities. Some measures were taken at the state level to try and address some of the systemic problems (the time will show how successfully).

Today France faces another ethnic conflict, this time with immigrant Roma. The events started developing according to the familiar already scenario: minor incidents with law enforcement have snowballed into a massive anti-Romani and anti-immigration campaign. Currently, expulsions of illegally resident Roma are ongoing and upcoming, even though most of them had personally nothing to do with the initial incidents.

The question is — will this conflict also lead to the reassessment of certain dubious national policies? Dubious, because how else should one call selective restrictions adopted by several EU members of the EU´s fundamental freedom of movement of people? And more importantly — will the objectives behind such restrictions, as well as behind the current blanket deportations of members of a specific vulnerable group, withstand historic scrutiny as legitimate and proportionate?