Two new landmark studies in France are debunking myths about immigration at a time when far-right xenophobic discourse has gained ground. They show that the children of immigrants are becoming increasingly integrated into French society, but some with African and Asian backgrounds face persistent discrimination.
Karima Simmou, a 20-year-old Franco-Moroccan student at the prestigious Paris Sciences Po university, embodies the phenomenon.
He comes from a working-class family of eight children, with a mother who raised the family and a father who worked as a miner in western France. Her family pushed her to go to the elite school.
“As the son of immigrants, my parents, from their experience, told me that I needed to do more than everyone else to be successful,” Simmou told The Associated Press.
Advocates fighting discrimination have welcomed new data released this month that provides a rare perspective because France follows a universalist vision that does not differentiate citizens by ethnic group.
The surveys published by the state statistics agency and the French state Institute for Demographic Studies, Ined, provide national data and statistics on the path of immigrants to France, their children and, for the first time, their grandchildren. It is an updated and longer version of a similar survey conducted 10 years ago. It includes a representative sample of more than 27,000 people drawn from the national census who answered extensive questions on topics such as family life, income, and religion from July 2019 to November 2020.
One of the reports found that a large part of France’s population has an immigrant ancestor, approximately 32% of people under the age of 60, and that the children and grandchildren of immigrants are increasingly integrated into French society.
However, immigration is not evenly distributed in France. Patrick Simon, one of the Ined researchers, said that around 70% of France’s population under the age of 60 has no immigrant heritage in the last three generations and that ethnic diversity largely depends on where the person lives. people in France.
The report ruled out the “great replacement,” a false claim propagated by some far-right figures that white populations in France and other Western countries are being overrun by non-white immigrants.
“The population of immigrant origin shares a deep bond with the population that does not have direct immigrant ancestry. In every family, people have a more or less direct link to immigration,” Simon told the Associated Press.
Over the generations, the immigrant heritage is diluted, the survey indicates.
It found that 66% of people with at least one immigrant parent are married to people with no recent immigrant heritage, while nine out of 10 people in France’s third-generation immigrant families have only one or two immigrant grandparents.
French immigration covers a wide range of origins, reflecting in part the country’s colonial history. Younger generations with an immigrant background tend to have North African or sub-Saharan roots, while older generations tend to have European roots. The survey said that 83% of people under the age of 18 in France who have at least one immigrant parent trace their origins to countries outside Europe, especially Africa. In contrast, more than 90% of second-generation immigrants over the age of 60 have Italian, Spanish, Polish, Belgian, German or other European parents.
The children and grandchildren of immigrants from Africa and Asia are well integrated into the French education system compared to their elders, according to another report. The data shows that they have increasingly higher levels of education than their parents, although many struggle to reach educational levels comparable to those of the French without immigrant ancestry.
And getting a job is also more difficult: 60% of people with non-European roots have intermediate or high-level jobs, compared to 70% of French people without direct immigrant relatives.
Ined researcher Mathieu Ichou pointed out two possible explanations for the discrepancy in hiring.
“Several surveys, data and audit studies supported that hiring is not favorable to minorities and they experience discrimination. France is pretty bad on this issue, compared to other European countries,” she said.
Furthermore, Ichou said, “minorities tend to be underrepresented in elite French schools.”
Simmou joined Sciences Po through a special program for students from disadvantaged areas. But she is well aware that her journey is exemplary and unusual.
Goundo Diawara, an educational advisor and member of a parents’ union in schools in working-class neighborhoods with large immigrant communities, has witnessed firsthand how the French school system is failing to eradicate inequality.
“In daily life, we denounce problems such as struggling with guidance in schools in disadvantaged areas. Most of the time, these students do not know about these elite schools. Also, having a son who is doing long studies costs more for poor families,” he told the Associated Press.
Still, he praised the two reports for providing “useful resources.”
Although Simmou has been studying at one of France’s most prestigious universities for three years, she still feels a gap between her and her classmates.
“During my second year at Sciences Po, people reminded me that I have immigrant roots, trying to put me in a box, while I want to choose who I want to be,” she said.
But the 20-year-old hopes her journey will inspire others.
“If we don’t give examples to hold on to, it’s hard to broaden our horizons and imagine another future,” he said.
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