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.
Citizens may report cases of discrimination based on national origin and ethnicity to the defender of rights. In 2012 the defender of rights received 8,183 discrimination claims, 23 percent of which concerned discrimination based on origin. On November 6, the Ministry of Justice revealed that in the first quarter of the year, there were reportedly 1,500 lawsuits for racist and xenophobic offenses, compared with 1,300 for the same period in 2012.
The Paris prosecutor’s office opened a preliminary investigation into alleged “public insults of a racist nature,” following the November 13 publication of a magazine, whose cover compared black Justice Minister Christiane Taubira to a monkey. The far-right satirical weekly Minute’s headline read: “Crafty as a monkey, Taubira gets her banana back.” Several antiracist NGOs announced their intention to file lawsuits against the weekly. Taubira had faced repeated racist attacks allegedly linked to her advocacy of same-sex marriage. On October 18, the National Front suspended an electoral candidate for a Facebook posting indicating she would prefer to see the minister “swinging from the branches rather than in government.” Meanwhile on October 25, a group of children in Angers demonstrated against same-sex marriage, shouting “Monkey, eat your banana” during Taubira’s visit to the town.
The government estimated the Muslim community to be between five and six million persons, consisting primarily of immigrants from former French North African and sub-Saharan colonies and their descendants. Government observers and NGOs reported a number of anti-Muslim incidents during the year, including slurs against Muslims and attacks on mosques as well as physical assaults. In its annual report on the fight against racism, anti-Semitism, and xenophobia, released in March, the CNCDH maintained that 201 anti-Muslim acts were committed in 2012. The Collectif Contre L'Islamophobie en France reported that in 2012, 469 anti-Muslim acts occurred in the country. The National Islamophobia Observatory of the French Council of the Muslim Faith registered a 35 percent increase in racist acts against Muslims between January and June, compared with the same period in 2012.
On August 13, authorities in Avignon discovered anti-Muslim graffiti demeaning the Prophet Mohammed near the entrance to the Popes’ Palace. Police arrested a 31-year-old Italian citizen who said he bought the paint after an argument with some Moroccans. The Avignon court convicted the man of “degradation and damage to a World Heritage monument.” He received a two-month suspended sentence. The Popes’ Palace and the city of Avignon filed a complaint for vandalism, and the courts scheduled the defendent for a separate trial for religious insults.
Authorities continued to dismantle camps and makeshift homes inhabited by Roma throughout the year. In the first half of the year, the European Roma Rights Center reported the eviction of 8,365 Roma. According to the European Association for the Defense of Human Rights, authorities evicted almost 12,000 Roma in 2012. The association further alleged that in 80 percent of the cases, police used force to evict Roma. According to a government study, an estimated 19,000 Roma resided in the country.
In August 2012 the government published a nonbinding circular aimed at providing more employment opportunities, better living conditions, and greater access to education and health care for Roma. Key measures included expanding the list of authorized occupations for Romanian and Bulgarian citizens and removing the tax on employers who hired Romanian and Bulgarian citizens. The circular also outlined measures local governments should take before dismantling a Romani camp. In accordance with 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. The government reported that as of May 28, it had spent 2.2 million euros ($3 million) to provide alternate housing for evicted Roma.
On June 24, the defender of rights sent the prime minister a report on the implementation of the August 2012 circular in which he noted increased tension between the inhabitants of the camps and the neighboring areas. He cited inconsistent implementation of the circular and shared his concern regarding the treatment suffered by Roma, particularly Romani families, placed in a situation of “forced nomadism.” The Interministerial Delegation for Accommodation and Housing Access reported on three main areas of achievement in the treatment of Roma: the allocation of 4 million euros ($5.4 million) by the government to provide transitional housing to displaced Romani communities; the implementation of an educational continuity monitoring system in each school district for Romani children; and a significant increase in the number of work permits granted to Bulgarian and Romanian workers during the year.
NGOs supporting Romani communities were critical of the government’s efforts to provide alternative housing for Roma following evictions. On September 11, local authorities cleared a Romani encampment outside Lille in preparation for construction of a new shopping mall, reportedly removing 750 Roma. Authorities met with the community two months prior to the removals (carried out in three stages) and distributed questionnaires to residents, 98 of whom returned the questionnaires. Authorities offered alternate housing to 12 displaced families.
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 June 7, unknown persons threw three Molotov cocktails into a government-provided Romani settlement in Hellemmes, shouting slurs during the attack. Subsequently, authorities opened an investigation into the attack, the outcome of which was pending at year’s end.
On July 27, approximately 10 persons took part in beating two Roma with iron bars in the Parisian suburb of Saint-Denis. Following the attack, authorities opened an investigation for attempted murder committed by an organized group.
In 2012 the government voluntarily repatriated 17,573 illegal immigrants to their countries of origin. Romanians and Bulgarians, many of whom were Roma, comprised an estimated 60 percent of voluntary repatriations, according to the French Office for Immigration and Integration. The government provided approximately 12 million euros ($16.2 million) in aid to individuals who voluntarily repatriated in 2012 and Romanians and Bulgarians received the majority of this aid. On November 7, Interior Minister Manuel Valls stated he anticipated only 7,000 voluntary repatriations during the year, a 60 percent decrease from 2012. According to Valls, this significant decrease was due to the elimination of financial aid provided to illegal immigrants who agreed to repatriate.
On October 9, authorities deported Leonarda Dibrani, a 15-year-old Romani girl, and her family to Kosovo after the family had exhausted all available appeals in their asylum request. Her arrest at the conclusion of a school trip sparked protests by high school students and considerable media coverage. An inspector general’s report concluded that the deportation was lawful but criticized its handling. The report revealed that Leonarda’s father, Resat Dibrani, purchased a fake marriage certificate to create the legal basis for the family’s asylum request. In his asylum petition Dibrani also claimed his children were born in Kosovo, whereas all but one were born in Italy, while the youngest child was born in France. During the almost five years that their asylum request was under consideration and appeal, the family benefitted from government-supported social programs, including free housing, health-care and food assistance, and monthly welfare payments.
On October 19, President Hollande announced that Leonarda could return to school in the country, but without her family. Leonarda rejected his offer and, on October 28, her parents applied for French residency through the administrative courts. A hearing on the family’s application was due prior to January 28, 2014.
In September 2012 the governments of France and Romania announced a two-year pilot program to return 80 Romani families to their counties of origin in Romania with French government financial and logistical support. On May 27, the city of Nantes and Romanian local governments signed a cooperation agreement to begin implementing the program, which provides funds to Romani families returning to Romania and connected those families with social workers upon their return.
During the year there were several statements made by public figures regarded by NGOs as demeaning to members of the country’s ethnic and racial minorities. On September 24, Minister of Interior Valls stated, “Only a minority of Roma want to integrate into French society, and for the others the solution is to dismantle their camps and repatriate them.” On November 12, the NGO Movement against Racism and for Friendship among People filed a judicial complaint against Valls for his September 24 comments.
Under threat of expulsion, National Assembly representative and Cholet mayor Gilles Bourdouleix resigned from the centrist Union of Democrats and Independents (UDI) party on July 24. Bourdeleix faced universal condemnation after a journalist overheard him mutter, “Hitler perhaps didn’t kill enough of them” during a confrontation with itinerant groups illegally occupying land in Cholet on July 21. UDI leader Jean-Louis Borloo condemned the remarks, while Interior Minister Valls deemed them a “glorification of World War II crimes” and requested legal proceedings against Bourdouleix. The state prosecutor in Angers opened an inquiry into the incident.
On July 5, Jean-Marie Le Pen, the former leader of the rightist National Front political party, described the presence of Roma as “irritating and smelly.” On August 13, the association SOS Racisme filed a complaint against Le Pen with the High Court of Nice for “incitement to racial hatred” due to his July remarks.
The law requires municipalities with more than 5,000 inhabitants to provide a campsite with sanitary facilities and access to water and electricity. This law aims to accommodate Travellers by preventing them from parking on unauthorized sites. The 2012 French General Accounting Office report stated that as of late 2011, municipalities had built only 52 percent of the campsites required by law.
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 provided a more secure environment, sought to curb juvenile delinquency, and allowed children to attend school regularly.
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.