150 years of immigration

jeudi 9 septembre 2004

France has always been a country of immigration. Between 1851 and 1911, the percentage of immigrants rose from to 1% to 3% of French population. These immigrants were mainly Belgian, Italian and Spanish. In the 20th century, the first important wave of immigration took place between 1920 and 1930. So the percentage of immigrants rose from 3 to 6,6% in 1931. In the 1930s, there was an important arrival of Polish workers (600 000) and Spanish people (500 000) after the defeat of the Spanish Revolution.

These numbers can give the impression that Muslims were not an important religious minority in France before the Second World War. But one must take into account the French Empire (Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia but also Western and Central Africa). Until the independence, in 1962, Algeria was considered as a French department (i.e. a part of French territory and nation) ; but the Algerians were not French citizens so they were deprived of the right to vote.

They were called Muslims, but that word described them as an ethnic, not as a religious group. This is why in Algeria you had the strange concept of « Christian Muslims ». The non-recognition of Muslim religion by the French state has therefore a long history. After the Second World War the percentage of immigrants rose from 4,4% in 1945 to 6,6% in 1975. So it reached more or less the level of the 1930s. This percentage has not changed much in the last 30 years : today immigrants represent 7,4% of the French population.

To appreciate exactly how many foreigners live in France, it is necessary to make a distinction between foreigners and immigrants. An immigrant is somebody who was born abroad and came to France but may become French rather quickly. A foreigner is somebody who has a foreign passport and therefore is not a French citizen.

Immigrants regularly become French and their children are automatically « naturalized » if they are born in France. That’s why we can consider the question of immigration from three different points of views, which give way to 3 different statistics, which fit into eachother like Russian puppets. In France there are : 3,6 million foreigners, or 4,3 million immigrants, or 6,1 million persons living in a family where either the father or the mother is a migrant.

The main « non European nationalities » are roughly : Algerians : 600 000 - Moroccans : 600 000 - Tunisians : 200 000 - Turks : 200 000 - Africans : 150 000 (the African population has tripled between 1982 and 1990, and once more doubled since then).

The main "European" communities are : Portuguese : 600 000 Italians : 200 000 - Spanish : 200000.

In we take into account all the immigrants the non Europeans represent today 55 % and the Europeans 45 %. Since 1990 the non European migrants represent therefore a small majority of the immigrant population.

To these immigrants one must add those who are French by birth but come from the French DOM-TOM : Guadeloupe, Martinique, Polynesia, New Caledonia. The 400 000 French West Indians represent an important fraction of the poorly-qualified employees of the public sector (postal services and hospitals). But none of them is considered as a migrant ! The percentage of women among immigrants is much higher than before 1974 because the frontiers have been closed in July 1974 for « non Europeans » and only family immigration and asylum seekers are allowed to enter. This element can explain why the problem of the hijab has taken more importance recently, but that’s not the only reason and probably not the main one.

Important discriminations

Immigrants coming from the « South » are victims of all sorts of discriminations as the statistics show. They are mainly employed in the car industry, building industry, cleaning sector and hospitals in lowly-paid jobs. 20% of the non-qualified workers are foreigners. 46 % of foreigners are workers (as opposed to 26 % of French people). 80% of the Turks are workers, 50% of the Algerians and Tunisians belong to the working class.

These discriminations had also affected the previous waves of immigration but it did not give birth to a religious movement of protest, because the majority of the Italian, Polish and Spanish immigrants were sharing the same religion as the dominant one in France : catholicism, but it probably not the case of the North Africans.

Part-time jobs and unemployment 42% of migrant women have a part-time job as opposed to 31% of French women. 20% of migrant men are unemployed as opposed to 10% of French men. 23% of migrant women are unemployed as opposed to 14% of French women.

Rate of unemployment (year 2000) according to the nationality

Born in France : 11 % - Born abroad but naturalized : 14% - Algerians : 30,8% - Moroccans : 35,8% - Tunisians : 19,5% - Other Africans : 25,6% Mariages

40 % of the African migrants are Muslim. Polygamy is practiced only among the Mandés who represent 25 % of the African immigrants. 50 % of the boys and 25 % of the girls born in Algeria but living in France marry with a French citizen whose two parents were born in France. Turkish men and women rarely marry French citizens, even they have been brought up in France

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