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Discriminatory Practices Against Minorities

Discriminatory Practices Against Minorities Refugees have become a new challenge for the French Republic.

Although protection from discrimination is an old tradition in France, monitoring has recorded an array of discriminatory actions.

First of all, this concerns the discrimination of the Roma, who arrived to France from Eastern Europe on the basis of unified EU territories.

As of 2014, there are 429 Roma settlements in France, totalling more than 19 000 people. Many settlements have no access to water and electricity or healthcare. In a number of cases, Roma children are often not accepted to schools, while their parents are cut off from the labour market due to poor knowledge of French.

Evictions of Roma families continued in 2014. 13 483 people have been evicted this year (many of whom were not given alternative housing). On June 18, 400 people were forcibly evicted from the largest informal Roma settlement in Marseilles, La Pareto. Only 18 families (150 people) were given alternative housing in one form or another.

On October 21, more than 300 people were evicted from Le Cocoteraie, near Paris, despite the court ruling that evictions would violate their right to family life. According to local authorities, 134 people were given alternative accommodation, but more than 100 left the area before evictions began. 60 people were provided only with temporary housing in Paris. Many of these apartments were not suited for families, located far away from schools that Roma children attended.

In September, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Nils Muiznieks urged France to stop forced evictions.

In some cases, police officers are practically harassing Roma people to force them to leave the area. In April, it was reported that police received a secret instruction to systematically deport Roma residing in the prestige Sixth District of Paris.

5 to 7 thousand Roma children fail to finish school, or do not attend it at all. A study by the European Centre for Roma Rights from September 2014 revealed that less than 50% of Roma respondents said that their children are attending school. 60% of parents whose children were not in school said that local council’s policies are the main obstacle. Many Roma children are put in normal classes, where they cannot catch up with fellow students . Police unwillingly investigates cases of attacks on Roma; therefore the latter in many cases were just afraid to report facts of attacks to police because of xenophobic moods .

Nomads face discrimination as well. There are 350 000 such people in France (60-70 thousand are permanently migrating, the rest are settled or semi-settled). The law regarding nomadic campsites, which existed since 2000, is not being observed. 40% of municipalities do not have such sites and existing campsites are too small. As a result, nomads are forced to stop in neighbouring areas, which causes conflicts. Nomad children are often not accepted to schools, arguing that nomads are illegally occupying land or that school has no free spaces .

Muslims living in France are also discriminated against. Cases of refusal in employment and studies for women in hijabs were also registered. Some Muslim employees were sacked because customers were not willing to deal with them. In some cases, they were passed over for promotion.

On October 17, it was reported that a special police unit attacked a group of Muslims doing physical exercises in a Strasbourg park. They were suspected of training for being sent to Syria .

On December 3, it was reported that there is a secret document of recommendations to prevent radicalisation in the society. The document was sent to school administrations across France and listed Muslim clothing, hijabs and weight loss as signs of radicalisation .

On December 12, it was reported that Mayor of Sarge-les-le-Mans, Marseille Mortro, said that from January 1, students would no longer have a choice of meals. They will either eat pork meals or remain hungry. According to him, secular schools should not cater to religions .

Police often stop Roma and Muslims on the street for identity checks. Public opinion poll published in May 2014 showed that 37% of identity checks were targeted at ethnic Africans, who constitute for just 7% of the population. African and Asian migrants were detained by police 3.5 times more than French people. Physical force was used 4 times more often towards them than average . The government did not revise the abolished police protocols to increase the accountability of police and prevent racial profiling.

Religious discrimination was noted against Christians and Jews, when public sector workers were required to attend work during religious holidays.

On February 11, private company «Paprec» banned its 4000 employees to display symbols of religion at the workplace for the sake of "religious neutrality" of all employees .

LGBT discrimination is also a problem in France. Transgender people face difficulties when changing their names, as they have to undergo compulsory sex-change operation and a two-year psych evaluation. Besides the cost of these procedures, they must wait several years to receive new documents, which causes problems when transgender people use their old documents after the operation . National Institute of Healthcare reports that quarter of LGBT youth suicides are caused by homophobia .

In 2013 the government undertook acts of forced eviction of the Roma from illegal settlements without provision of alternative accommodation or with provision thereof in separate districts, which destroyed existing social connections (Ris-Orangis, 3rd of April, more than 200 people, Lille, 5th of June, 75 people, Lyon, 10th of July and the 23rd of August – two deportations of the same group of 45 people, Bobigny, 27th of August, 35 people, Saint-Denis, 27th of November, 270 people, Marseille, 3rd of December, 200 people). In the period from January to September 13’400 Roma have been ecivted – more than during the whole of 2012. People were usually informed of eviction a few hours in advance with barely any time to prepare. In a number of cases eviction came with violence towards the denizens, harm to their property etc.

Additionally, massive deportations of Roma to Eastern Europe were renewed. In 2013 19’380 Roma were deported. Even families that tried to integrate into the French community suffered from deportation. The story of the deported 15 year old Leonarda Debrani schocked the community. She was taken away to Kosovo in October in front of a bus full of her classmates while on a school field trip. At the same time repatriation benefits, given out in France to Roma EU citizens (300 Euros to adults and 100 Euros to children) is much smaller, than to deported citizens on non-EU countries (2’000 Euros to adults and 500-1000 to children) .

Police unwillingly investigates cases of attacks on Roma; therefore the latter in many cases were just afraid to report facts of attacks to police because of xenophobic moods. Cases of Roma persecutions from policemen were noted (Antibes, March, Saint-Denis, July, Villeneuve-d'Ascq, August).

On the 20th of March it became known that a young woman was denied access to a gym because of her hijabs. According to the words of the gym’s administration, no one is allowed to enter the gym in any sort of headwear, including a hijabs. On the 10th of June in the international airport of Saint-Etienne Muslim women were not allowed to board a plane because of their refusal to take off their hijabs . On the 28th of November the French Court of Appeals supported the decision of a certain kindergarten in firing a woman, who argued for her right to wear a hijab at work, repealing the decision of a minor court .

In a number of cities mayors refused to provide Muslim schoolchildren with Halal food, even in cases where the Muslim community was ready to cover the expenses (Arvers, beginning of October ). There was even a registered case of isolation of a Muslim schoolboy who refused to eat non-Halal food . These actions were supported by commissioner for human rights Dominic Body in his report (published at the end of March) on the state of honoring human rights and freedoms in French educational facilities. He stated that the Mayor’s Office doesn’t have to provide Muslim schoolchildren with Halal dinners and cafeterias should «maintain religious neutrality» . Some cases were registered where the government prevented Muslims from building mosques (Locmine and Vannes, March ), closed (or attempted to close) mosques (Épinay-sur-Seine, February , Cagnes sur Mer, March , Nice, March , Montrouge, April ).

On September 11th it came to light that the French government facility RATP (independent operator of Parisian public transport) refuses to publish advertisements of an anti-Islamophobia campaign in France, calling it "religiously and politically provocative" .

Policemen quite often stop Roma and Muslims in order to check their documents based on «suspicious appearance». On the 2nd of October a Parisian court declined an array of complaints on selective document checks, motivating this by stating that the complainants could not prove prejudgments from the policemen . In the end, under pressure from police labor groups, the government did not come back to the abandoned idea of implementing protocol forms for street document checks. This would raise accountability of the police force and eliminate the constant worries regarding selective checks based on ethnical background.

Transgender people wishing to change their name also face certain difficulties. Sometimes they have to wait several years for new documents, because courts demand that they go through all medical procedures connected to changing the gender, lengthy visits to a psychiatrist (in some cases humiliating), as well as paying for expensive expertise. This leads to an array of psychological problems when transgender people use their old documents while already having a new appearance. Based on a questionnaire made by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights 48 percent of transsexuals in France stated that they were discriminated against in the past 12 months. 28 percent of the respondents stated that they were discriminated against at their work place and 18 percent at school or university .

In December 2014, the mayor of the Paris suburb of Champlain refused to allow the burial of the Gypsy child in the local cemetery, saying that the places there are reserved only for local taxpayers. Later, he apologized to the deceased's family. On February 11, private company «Paprec» banned its 4000 employees to display symbols of religion at the workplace for the sake of "religious neutrality" of all employees.

All this shows that the state actually replaced the principles of tolerance, ethnic and religious diversity with an unjustified compromise that, on the one hand, was aimed at destroying its own religious traditions, and on the other, to assimilate the whole population into a certain community devoid of religious and ethnic identity.

Cases of institutional racism are widespread, primarily in law enforcement agencies in France. Often they are combined with police violence. For example in July 2016 a 24-year-old black citizen, Adama Traoré, died in the Beaumont sur Oise police station, northwest of Paris. The police called the cause of death acute heart failure (the young man had heart disease), but it soon became clear that death was caused by asphyxiation. Traore was subjected to unusual and unnecessary use of force by the police during his interrogation. The dispute on this matter continues and various demonstrations of up to 2000 people are held regularly in his hometown and in Paris. Human rights NGOs have pointed out that immigrant youth are often subjected to excessive pressure from the police only because of their skin color, including identity checks that border on persecution.

Also in 2016, one of the state construction companies was convicted by courts for discrimination based on ethnic origin for the second time. The company introduced quotas for the provision of social housing for people of African or Caribbean origin.

Representatives of the Jewish community of France repeatedly complained about the system of public schools. According to its leaders, in several areas of the country, whether it was Paris or its suburbs, Lyon or Marseille, families had to take their children from public schools to private Jewish schools, because in the first anti-Semitism was rampant. The reason was not teachers and administration, but anti-Jewish insults from non-Jewish students, as well as from children on their way to schools and back. Quite a lot of complaints were raised about security issues in such schools.

On the other hand, some Muslim organizations and NGOs continue to oppose the ban on hijab, burqa or niqab in public schools. They also oppose the idea of Manuel Valls to ban these garments in universities. The main argument for the difference between schools and universities is that students over the age of 18 (with some exceptions) are adults whose civil rights are violated by the ban, while minors under 18 must be protected from adults who may force them to wear the hijab against their will.

Terrorist attacks at Charlie Hebdo in 2015, at a Roman Catholic cathedral in Nice on January 29, 2020, the beheading of a teacher by an Islamist of Chechen origin on October 16, 2020 prompted the government to take swift action and at the same time announce widespread closures of 76 mosques under the Anti-Terror Law, which, according to intelligence, were affiliated with Islamist radical movements such as Wahabi/Salafi, Tablighi Jamaat, or Turkish Radicals. At the same time, closing mosques rather than combating specific extremists within religious communities is a radical and discriminatory measure, as it aims to reduce the number of places of worship attended by Muslims.

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