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, asylum seekers, and migrants may report cases of discrimination based on national origin and ethnicity to the defender of rights. According to the most recent data available, in 2015 the defender of right’s office received 4,846 discrimination claims, 22.6 percent of which concerned discrimination based on ethnic origin.
In one prominent case from 2013, the National Front party suspended a local electoral candidate, Anne-Sophie Leclere, for a Facebook posting indicating she would prefer to see then justice minister Christiane Taubira, who was black, “swinging from the branches rather than in government.” In 2014 the criminal court in Cayenne, French Guiana, sentenced Leclere to nine months in prison, banned her from holding public office for five years, and fined her 50,000 euros ($55,000). The court also fined the National Front 30,000 euro ($33,000). Both parties appealed the ruling. In June 2015 the Cayenne appeals court cancelled the nine-month prison sentence. The court also ruled that the legal action against Leclere, filed by the Guyanese association Walwari, was not admissible. On September 28, the Paris criminal court sentenced her to a suspended 3,000 euros ($3,300) fine.
Based on unofficial government estimates, the Muslim community was between five and six million persons and consisted 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, attacks on mosques, and physical assaults. The National Islamophobia Observatory of the French Council of the Muslim Faith, citing Interior Ministry figures, registered a 63 and 79 percent decrease in anti-Muslim racist incidents and threats during the first half of the year compared with the same period in 2015.
The National Islamophobia Observatory of the French Council of the Muslim Faith, citing Interior Ministry figures, registered a 52 percent decrease in anti-Muslim racist acts during the first 10 months of the year compared with the same period in 2015. From January 1 to September 30, 149 anti-Muslim acts were committed compared to 323 during the same period in 2015.
Following a December 2015 demonstration against an ambush on that injured two firefighters in a housing project in Ajaccio, Corsica, a mob attacked a Muslim prayer room and tried to set fire to copies of the Quran. The mob also vandalized a kebab shop and shouted slogans, such as “Arabs get out!” and “This is our home!” in the Corsican language. Corsican nationalist leaders condemned both incidents as racist acts. Interior Minister Cazeneuve condemned the acts as “intolerable” acts against a place of worship that carried the “odor of racism and xenophobia.” Corsica’s prefect, Christophe Mirmand, announced that he would ban protests in and around the Jardins de l’Empereur estate after riot police and gendarmes stopped a crowd of approximately 300 persons from entering it. In December 2015 two men were formally charged for links to the attack on firefighters; a date for their trial had not been set by year’s end.
On April 30, a Muslim prayer hall in Corsica was destroyed by a fire. According to Ajaccio’s public prosecutor, based on hydrocarbon traces found inside the hall the fire was probably a criminal act. No one was injured in the fire. The same day President Hollande issued a statement expressing his solidarity with the Muslims of Corsica. An investigation into the incident continued at year’s end.
In an August 26 decision, the country’s highest administrative court, the Council of State, rejected the city of Villeneuve-Loubet’s ban on conservative, full-body swimwear worn by some Muslim women. Municipalities claimed the ban was put in place as a security measure following the July attacks in Nice. In its ruling the court asserted the beachwear posed no real risk to public order and, in the absence of such risk, the restriction of individual freedoms could not be justified. The mayors of several cities including Nice dismissed the verdict and announced they would continue to enforce bans on full-body swimwear at public beaches.
Societal hostility against Roma, including Romani migrants from Romania and Bulgaria, continued to be a problem. There were reports of anti-Roma violence by private citizens. Romani individuals, including migrants, experienced discrimination in employment (see section 7.d.). According to a government study, an estimated 20,000 Roma resided in the country.
Authorities dismantled camps and makeshift homes inhabited by Roma throughout the year. In the first half of the year, the European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) reported the eviction of 4,615 Roma in 37 different localities. According to ERRC and Human Rights League data, authorities evicted 11,128 Roma from 111 illegal camps in 2015, an 18 percent decrease from 2014, when 13,483 Roma were evicted. According to the ERRC, of the 111 settlement evictions, 76 followed a court decision and 31 followed a municipal or prefect order. Given the lack of housing alternatives, individuals generally moved to other camps after their eviction. In its annual report covering 2015, Amnesty International reported that authorities conducted forced evictions of Roma and failed to provide adequate alternative housing to evicted Romani individuals and families.
In September 2015 the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein expressed serious concern regarding forced evictions of Roma and Travelers in the country. He warned that authorities appeared to be making such evictions “systematic national policy” since 2012, noting the August 2015 eviction of more than 150 inhabitants of a shantytown in the Paris suburb of La Courneuve. Al Hussein noted that failure to improve treatment of Roma “simply exacerbates entrenched popular discrimination against what is already one of Europe’s most deprived and marginalized communities.” He also noted that during the year both the UN Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and the Human Rights Committee asked authorities to refrain from forced evictions if they did not provide alternative housing.
On May 2, the French National Consultative Commission on Human Rights noted in its annual report that persistent societal tensions regarding the acceptance of certain minorities, notably the Romani population, and emphasized that anti-Roma prejudice remained high. In June the Operational Platform for Roma Equality, a network of European agencies, stated that evictions had a particularly traumatizing impact on children, leaving them vulnerable to trafficking and other abuses.
In August a group of unknown assailants attacked Roma living in a Marseille settlement with a knife and a Molotov cocktail. Seven persons were hospitalized, according to local media. At year’s end no suspects had been arrested in the case.
On September 27, the Collective for the Right of Roma Children to Education released a study conducted between November 2015 and July in 34 shantytowns across the country showing that 53 percent of children between ages 12 and 18 were not attending school.
Regarding “gens du voyage” (or Travelers), the law requires municipalities with more than 5,000 inhabitants to provide a campsite for Travelers with sanitary facilities and access to water and electricity. According to authorities, the law is meant to accommodate Travelers by preventing them from parking on unauthorized sites. As of 2010 the most recent year for which data were available, municipalities had built only 52 percent of the campsites required by law.
The government attempted to combat racism and discrimination through programs that promoted public awareness and brought together local officials, police, and citizens. Some public school systems also managed antidiscrimination education programs. In September 2015 the Ministry of Justice launched a website to inform and assist victims of discrimination.
On April 18, Labor Minister Myriam El Khomri, Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron, Youth Minister Patrick Kanner, and State Secretary for Real Equality Ericka Bareigts jointly inaugurated a national campaign to counter hiring discrimination. Labor Minister El Khomri announced that blind resume testing would be used to name and shame companies found guilty of biases in hiring.
On May 9, the ombudsman for human rights, Jacques Toubon, released a report on government discrimination against foreigners and failure to uphold their fundamental rights. The report noted several examples, including retired workers from Benin who could not get a state pension because they did not have French citizenship, despite having worked in the country for most their lives, and schools that refused to accept children of irregular migrants, despite being required to do so by law. The report called on the government to “prevent the spread of divergent or illegal interpretations of the law” in order to protect foreigners living in the country.