Societal violence and discrimination against immigrants of North African origin, Roma, and other ethnic minorities remained a problem.
On September 16, a Paris appeals court overturned the June 2010 conviction of the former minister of the interior, overseas France, local authorities, and immigration, Brice Hortefeux, for racial slander. The charges were related to remarks Hortefeux allegedly made to a young party activist of Arab origin during a UMP party event. Hortefeux was caught on camera saying, “When there is one, it’s OK. It’s when there are a lot of them, that there are problems,” in reference to persons of North African origin. The trial court had fined him 750 euros ($975) and ordered him to pay 2,000 euros ($2,600) to an antiracism organization. Following the appeals court decision, the NGO Movement against Racism and for Friendship between Peoples (MRAP) announced that it would file an appeal before the Court of Cassation.
On April 4, the NGO SOS-Racism filed a complaint against Interior Minister Claude Gueant after he told journalists during a trip to Nantes that the growing number of Muslims in the country “poses a problem.”
Many observers expressed concern that discriminatory hiring practices in both the public and the private sectors deprived minorities from sub-Saharan Africa, the Maghreb, the Middle East, and Asia of equal access to employment.
According to an INSEE survey conducted in 2009, the most recent year for which data was available, the unemployment rate of immigrants was nearly twice that of nonimmigrants (16 percent versus 8.4 percent). The survey showed that children of immigrants also had higher unemployment rates than did the children of two French parents. According to the report, lower levels of education and experience for the children of immigrants were only partly responsible for the higher unemployment rate.
Societal hostility, government evictions, and compulsory repatriations, many of which were aimed at illegal immigrants from Romania and Bulgaria, continued to be serious problems. During the year authorities evicted and compulsorily repatriated thousands of Romanian and Bulgarian citizens, many of whom were Roma (see section 2.d.).
On October 27, AI reported a suspected arson attack on Roma squatters in an unused warehouse in Paris and, citing “the general climate of intolerance and prejudice towards Roma in France,” called on authorities to investigate and consider whether racial motivation was involved. The Prosecutor’s Office ordered the Judicial Police to investigate. AI also called on authorities to provide emergency accommodation for the approximately 40 persons left homeless by the fire.
The NGO Medecins du Monde alleged that some Roma were subjected to pressure and intimidation by police.
On March 1, unidentified assailants threw two Molotov cocktails into the camp of Romanian Roma not far from the Moger Castle east of Montpellier. No injuries were reported, but several caravans and vehicles were burned.
Medecins du Monde reported two incidents of violence against Roma during the year. In August a police officer hit a girl on the head while she was trying to prevent officers from throwing out her belongings during an eviction. In October employees of Medecins du Monde encountered a woman in Arenc with two broken ribs. The woman reported that a group of young people threatened her and hit her with an iron bar.
During the year several French NGOs reported deteriorating living conditions for Roma. A study by Doctors without Borders highlighted declining health within the Romani community, due in part to poor access to medical care. The study claimed that 2.5 percent of Roma living in itinerant camps had tuberculosis and only 8 percent were fully vaccinated. The newborn death rate among Roma was reportedly nine times higher than the national average.
Travellers’ organizations alleged that both itinerant Travellers and those with fixed abodes faced discrimination in education, housing, and access to government services. Other discrimination problems were particularly acute for Travellers, as some mayors denied school registration to children whose parents lived in illegal campsites. Travellers benefited from a special status that authorizes their children discontinuous school attendance without justification. School registration rates for Travellers were 66.7 percent in kindergarten, 81.8 percent in primary schools, and 78.8 percent in high school, but absenteeism and breaks within the education system were frequent. According to a survey conducted by the NGO collective Romeurope that was released in February 2010, between 5,000 and 7,000 Romani children living in the country were not enrolled in school.
Travellers were subject to laws that did not apply to residents with permanent residences. Individuals over the age of 16 not settled in one place must have a periodically renewed travel permit. Any delay in renewal entails a maximum fine of 1,500 euros ($2,200). Authorities did not consider Traveller caravans to be housing; as a result they were not entitled to housing assistance.
The law requires municipalities with more than 5,000 inhabitants to provide a camping site with sanitary facilities and access to water and electricity. According to a parliamentary report released on March 9, 48 percent of municipal authorities had established 16,000 campsites. However, there was still a shortage estimated at over 20,000 sites (according to authorities) or up to 60,000 sites (according to NGOs). At the end of the year, approximately 5,000 additional campsites were under construction or slated for construction.
Citizens may report cases of discrimination based on national origin and ethnicity to HALDE. On May 1, HALDE merged into the office of the defender of rights. In 2010 HALDE received 12,467 discrimination claims, half of which concerned employment. HALDE issued opinions on approximately 300 cases per year and offered mediation for hundreds more.
The government attempted to combat racism and discrimination through programs that promoted public awareness and brought together local officials, police, and citizen’s groups. Some public school systems also managed antidiscrimination educational programs.