Societal violence and discrimination against immigrants of North African origin, Roma, and other ethnic minorities remained a problem. Many observers expressed concern that discriminatory hiring practices in both the public and private sectors deprived minorities from sub-Saharan Africa, the Maghreb, the Middle East, and Asia of equal access to employment.
The government estimated the Muslim community of five to six million persons primarily consisted of immigrants from former French North African and sub-Saharan colonies and their descendants. A number of anti-Muslim incidents were reported during the year, including slurs against Muslims and attacks on mosques and cemeteries, as well as physical assaults and killings. In a November 19 report, the National Observatory against Islamophobia announced that 175 anti-Muslim acts had been committed in the country between January 1 and October 30, a 42 percent increase from the same period in 2011.
In May two men in Amiens claiming to be from the extreme right violently attacked two 70-year-old Muslims on their way to mosque to attend prayers. The victims were admitted to Amiens hospital with injuries to their legs and ribs. They filed two lawsuits, and the Amiens prosecutor opened an investigation.
On August 2, during the celebration of Ramadan, two pig heads were discovered on the doorsteps of a mosque in Montauban. Perpetrators had also thrown a significant quantity of pig’s blood at the door of the mosque. Interior Minister Valls and the mayor of Montauban denounced the attack and pledged to prosecute the perpetrators. The police investigation continued at year’s end.
As of October 1, NGOs estimated that the Ministry of Interior had evicted 3,000 illegal immigrants from Romania and Bulgaria, many of whom were Roma, from camps around the country that were in “a dangerous situation or [posed] serious health risks.” According to the law, a landlord (defined as a private individual or city mayor for public lands) may seek to evict an occupant from immovable property, only after filing a request to the administrative court, which then rules on the legality of the occupant’s presence on the property. An occupant found to be squatting receives between three and 30 days’ notice to abandon the property; thereafter, the mayor or prefect may authorize an eviction. During the year the government provided legal notice to squatters in all but one case. On August 27, authorities dismantled a Romani squatter camp in Evry one day before the announcement of the ruling.
In March authorities dismantled an illegal camp outside of Paris occupied by 130 Roma because of unsanitary conditions and because the camp posed a security threat. A month earlier, five young residents of the camp allegedly robbed a Japanese tourist; animal protection associations further claimed that dog trafficking was taking place in the camp. An immigration judge ordered that three of the illegal residents be deported. In August the government evicted more than 700 Roma from six illegal campsites in Lille, Marseille, Lyon, and Paris. Several hundred residents of these sites were repatriated compulsorily to Romania and Bulgaria. Interior Minister Valls stated that unsanitary and unsecure living conditions were the primary factors motivating these evictions.
On August 10, the office of EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding said she would closely monitor evictions from illegal Romani camps to ensure the expulsions were not arbitrary and discriminatory. On September 10, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay expressed concern over the dismantling of such camps in the country. The week before, the UN special rapporteurs on minorities, migrants, housing, and racism stated that legal safeguards should be in place to ensure children, women, and those with illnesses or disabilities not be left homeless or vulnerable.
Societal hostility against Roma, including many illegal immigrants from Romania and Bulgaria, continued to be a problem. There were reports of anti-Roma violence by private citizens. On March 21, the European Roma Rights Center expressed its concern about alleged multiple forced evictions and attacks on Roma in Vault-en-Velin, Lyon. On September 27, some residents of an apartment building in a poor neighborhood of Marseille evicted 40 Roma, including 15 children, from an illegal campsite across the street. While some belongings left behind were burned, there were no reports of physical violence.
In 2011 the government repatriated 32,912 illegal immigrants to their countries of origin. Of these, 22,312 illegal immigrants were compulsorily repatriated and 10,600 voluntarily repatriated. Romanians and Bulgarians, many of whom are Roma, comprised an estimated 30 percent of compulsory repatriations according to the NGO Hors la Rue, and 82 percent of voluntary repatriations according to the French Office for Immigration and Integration (OFII). The government provided 21.5 million euros ($28.38 million) in aid to individuals who voluntarily repatriated in 2011. According to OFII and NGOs, the policy of providing financial aid to each illegal immigrant who accepts voluntary repatriation was unsuccessful, as individuals in many cases would return to the country a month after their deportation.
On June 20, newly appointed Paris prefect of police Bernard Boucault announced that anti-begging penalties targeting Roma would not be extended because the measures were insufficient, with offenders almost never paying fines or returning to Paris shortly after being deported.
On August 22, the government announced a number of steps to provide more employment opportunities, better living conditions, and more access to education and health care for Roma. Key measures included expanding the list of authorized occupations for Romanian and Bulgarian citizens and the lifting of a tax on employers who hire Romanian and Bulgarian citizens. Results from the measure were unknown at year’s end.
On September 12, the governments of France and Romania announced a two-year pilot program to return 80 Romani families from France to their counties of origin in Romania, pledging financial and logistical support. Results from the measure were unknown at year’s end.
During the year there were several cases that involved public figures making statements that were seen as demeaning members of the country’s ethnic and racial minorities. On February 4, former Interior Minister Claude Gueant caused a political uproar by suggesting to a right-wing student union that some civilizations were superior to others. Gueant argued that civilizations that defended liberty, equality, and fraternity were superior to those that accepted tyranny, the subservience of women, and social and ethnic hatred.
On September 16, a Paris appeals court overturned the 2010 conviction of the former minister of interior, overseas France, local authorities, and immigration, Brice Hortefeux, for racial slander. The charges related to remarks Hortefeux allegedly made to a young party activist of Arab origin during a Union for a Popular Movement party event. A camera recorded Hortefeux disparaging persons of North African origin. The trial court had fined him 750 euros ($990) and ordered him to pay 2,000 euros ($2,640) to an antiracism organization. Following the appeals court decision, the NGO Movement against Racism and for Friendship between Peoples appealed the decision before the Court of Cassation.
The law requires municipalities with more than 5,000 inhabitants to provide a campsite with sanitary facilities and access to water and electricity. According to a French General Accounting Office report released in October, the government created 27,469 places in campsites during 2010 and 2011. As of December 2011, only 52 percent of the places required by law had been built. However, there was still a shortage estimated at more than 20,000 sites (according to authorities) or up to 60,000 sites (according to NGOs).
During the year at least a dozen cities set-up accommodations for Romani families, including permanent housing in a compound of prefabricated houses in the Cosmonautes district north of Paris. These accommodations allowed children to receive education, provided a more secure environment, and sought to curb juvenile delinquency.
In February the Catholic diocese of Marseille provided temporary housing for 66 Roma and later signed an agreement with the NGO Ampil to help with integration. To participate in the program, Romani parents had to agree to send their children to school, exercise their parental authority, and respect public order.
Citizens may report cases of discrimination based on national origin and ethnicity to the defender of rights. In 2011 the defender of rights received 8,183 discrimination claims, half of which concerned employment. The defender of rights issued opinions on approximately 300 cases per year and offered mediation for hundreds more. Data for 2012 was unavailable at year’s end.
The government attempted to combat racism and discrimination through programs that promoted public awareness and brought together local officials, police, and citizens groups. Some public school systems also managed antidiscrimination educational programs.