Saint-Denis, France, Apr 6 (EFE).- Anti-immigration rhetoric has gained momentum in France as the first round of presidential elections looms.
One third of French voters are expected to back a far-right candidate at the ballot box, most likely Marine Le Pen or Eric Zemmour, and 63% have said they think there are “too many immigrants,” according to recent polling by Sciences Po researchers.
But the anti-immigration card, which is gaining popularity across France, is not only being played by the leading far-right candidates.
Valérie Pécresse, candidate for the traditional right-wing Les Republicains (LR) party, is leaning towards anti-immigration laws in a bid to shore up votes while incumbent president Emmanuel Macron, a centrist who is running for a second term in office, is also leaning toward tighter immigration policies.
But the political debate does not reflect the human reality of immigration in France.
Out of the 5.2 million foreigners living in France, which accounts for 7.7% of the entire population, half are from Africa.
Zemmour, the most aggressive on the matter, has promised voters he will expel one million undocumented or legal immigrants with criminal records from France if elected.
“We have been slaves, they tortured us,” Kabil, 37, an immigrant from sub-Saharan Africa, tell Efe.
Kabil, who requested anonymity and did not reveal his native country for security reasons, described his journey to France four years ago as “hell.”
The man fled his country with his family to protect his two-year old daughter from female genital mutilation.
“People would come from the Persian Gulf countries and buy people,” he says, adding that he witnessed human trafficking from Libya to Italy.
It took Kabil and his family three years to obtain legal status in France.
“I feel safe here, we are doing well now,” he says. Kabil lives in social housing in Saint-Denis, a borough just outside of Paris with a predominantly immigrant population.
Fatumata, a woman in her fifties from Angola, lives in the same neighborhood.
“My case is almost solved, I have been very well received here and I am very satisfied here in France,” Fatumata, whose face has been disfigured by acid in a religious practice, tells Efe.
La Cimade, a French NGO that helps immigrants build a life in France, treats some 280 cases per week.
Out of every 10 cases they deal with, only two are successful. The volunteers working at the NGO blame French bureaucracy, which they say is a deliberate attempt to hinder the legalization of immigrants.
“We don’t integrate foreigners, all France’s principles, liberty, equality, fraternity, human rights, do not make any sense,” said Michele Boumendil, a volunteer at La Cimade.
Between October 2020 and June 2021, France rejected 28,000 applications and residence permit renewals, 50% more than in the same period of the previous year.
According to government estimates, there are between 600,000 and 700,000 people without papers in the country. EFE