Equal Opportunities in France
By Ruth Nabakwe
June 17, 2001
Hundreds of minority immigrants in France Saturday held demonstrations in the streets of Paris demanding equal opportunities for a better future of their children.
The demonstrators, mainly Africans , Antilleans, Arabs and a few Asians were led by, among others, Cameroonian writer Calixthe Beyala and their French supporters, including representatives of the Greens political party.
They carried banners which said minority groups in France had had enough of exclusion and marginalisation. They pointed out that there could be "no peace in the world without justice and the sharing of wealth."
"We do not want charity but equal opportunities which would enable our children to realise their full potential in all socio-economic sectors of French society" 60-year-old R. Marie of Martinique told PANA.
In agreement with Marie's opinion, young children on the frontline of the demonstration carried a banner reading: "We go through the same education system in France, we therefore demand the same chances."
The demonstrators failed to submit their petition to Prime Minister Lionel Jospin after the way leading to his official residence was blocked by a contingent of police.
Undeterred by neither the police restriction nor the downpour that followed the march, Beyala and other speakers addressed the attentive gathering.
In her remarks which were received with jubilation, Beyala called for "a France of equality and fraternity as inscribed in its Republican Constitution."
Beyala said former French premier Allain Juppe had "sent a word of encouragement and support to the protesters."
"We demand that minority groups be more visible in responsible positions in enterprises, media and the political scene in France as a way of putting an end to a climate of hostilities among the various components of French society," she said.
Beyala said that she could not understand why it was easy to adopt certain principles for certain cases such as for homosexual couples, who enjoy the same rights like other traditional couples, while issues affecting minority groups were not accorded due attention.
For his part, the president of the Collective of Sons and Daughters of Deported Africans (COFFAD), Assani Fassassi, was more concerned with the consequences of slavery and slave trade.
"This protest march is happening at a time when France has just adopted legislation in recognition of slave trade and slavery as a crime against humanity," he told the demonstrators.
Fassassi said that there were people who sought to stifle calls for reparations by arguing that "blacks sold their honour when they participated in selling their brothers and sisters into slavery."
Africans would not accept such arguments, he said, adding that since the French law recognises slave trade as a crime against humanity, that is an important tool which Africans should use to defend their rights.
Meanwhile, Joby Valente of the Antilles said it was necessary that the consciousness of Africans was re-awakened to face the reality of the challenges confronting them through a united front.
"Whatever we do is not in vain, never be discouraged or accept a defeatist attitude," she told the protesters.
"Slavery and colonialism sought to break our spirits, to make us believe that whatever we do will never amount to anything. But in 2001 the situation is different and never again will we accept to sit with arms folded without acting", she said.
At the same time in other streets of Paris, the so-called "sans papiers" or "undocumented immigrants" were joined by their supporters to press demands for regularisation of their status.
The secretary general of the movement against racism (MRAP), Mouloud Aounit, who joined syndicates in support of the "sans papiers" urged Prime Minister Lionel Jospin to live up to his electoral promises and regularise the undocumented immigrants.
Jospin's government had in 1997 attempted to move in that direction when his then interior minister Jean Pierre Chevenement regularised some 80,000 "sans papiers."
But for the 63,000 whose applications were rejected, "the struggle continues," said some of the affected immigrants who took part in Saturday's protest march.
PanAfrican News Agency
June 17, 2001
Paris / FRANCE
PREVIOUS ARTICLE NEXT ARTICLE
The Journal of History - Fall 2002 Copyright © 2002 by News Source, Inc.