Monday, August 29, 2005

Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien

The recent fire in a Paris apartment complex has inspired a storm of protest from Africans in Paris. The fire killed 17 people, including 13 children. This incident highlights the plight of many immigrants from Africa who enter France illegally. France does have the paperwork and the regulations to deal with this influx, but many Africans say they are marginalised due to racism.

"From the outside, France is the country of human rights, but the inside is less pretty," said Korotoum, 31, who did not want her full name published for fear her work colleagues would learn where she lives. "The rights are not for everyone."
[. . .]
Unemployment among Algerians and Moroccans, the largest immigrant groups, hovered at more than 30 percent, about three times the national average, a study by the Paris-based Montaigne Institute showed two years ago. About a third of them live in suburban ghettos filled with rows of crime-ridden housing complexes and have little hope of employment, let alone proper job training.
The most vulnerable are those who are caught in the administrative limbo that is provisional housing, as Friday's fire illustrated. Many of the 130 people living in the burned-out building had housing applications pending for 14 years. Meanwhile, they were crammed in a rundown building with aging plumbing and electrical wiring.
When they moved in, city authorities had assured them that they would not be staying longer than three years. That was in 1991. (from the International Herald Tribune.)

The story of immigration from African countries into Europe is fascinating to me, not only because it parallels the border situation in the US. When I was in Fes I had the experience of being taken for a ride in the back of a police van. I was reporting a stolen camera and this was the way they chose to transport me to the main police station. Also riding in the back were two illegal immigrants from the Ivory Coast. They were both around my age and seemed in good spirits. One of them spoke clear English and he talked to me about his experience crossing the border. He said that, back in his country, the choice was between a life of crime or crossing the border illegally. He had an education and knew of relatives living in Europe, people that could take him in.
A police translator was also there and listened good-naturedly to the discussion. He did not want to talk much about it, but it was clear he felt some sympathy, and perhaps some admiration, for the immigrants. He said that the two border crossers would be dumped in a no-man's land between Morocco and Algeria. The young immigrant shrugged and said that he would just come back into Morocco and keep trying until he could get across to Spain. Everyone smiled.