Integration of Immigrants Expected to Take Centre Stage in French Policy

By Ruth Nabakwe
Paris, France

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

December 11, 2002

A member of the French High Counsel on Integration Khalid Hamdani has hinted that the issue of integration of immigrants in French society was expected to be determinant for the future of France judging by serious reflections on the matter currently underway in the French political class.

"Both the French leftwing and Rightwing political parties realize the need for effective integration of immigrants," Hamdani told a day long meeting at the French National Assembly centred on integration of immigrants in French society over the weekend.

Organized by Africagora, a club which seeks to promote effective integration of Africans and Caribbean communities in all levels of socio-economic, cultural and political domains of French society, the meeting was held under the theme , ‘’ La France Métissée: Réalités Pour Refonder la République’’ ( Mixed Race France: Realities to Reconstruct the Republic).

Hamdani told participants at the meeting who included African, Arab and Caribbean communities as well as French sympathisers that the policy on immigration in France was presently under serious reflection particularly in view of the need for manpower to fill thousands of Jobs that were expected to be created per year in France.

Following a recent UN report which warned of the impact of an aging European population on European economies several European countries were presently preoccupied with how best to deal with the issue as more of their workforce retired leaving several enterprises in serious need of manpower.

As the debate rages in France some politicians have suggested the need to target a specifically skilled group of immigrants in sectors that badly needed workers. Already, according to Hamdani France expected to create some 700 thousand jobs per year to fill sectors that were already feeling the pinch as a result of retiring workers.

While other politicians have talked of the need to integrate immigrants in French society in ways that would enable them contribute towards the economic progress of French society others have gone further and suggested that non-European Union immigrants be allowed to vote at local level.

As the debate on the integration of immigrants continues to preoccupy the French political class, French President Jacques Chirac recently gave a hint of the orientation of his Rightwing party as far as the issue of immigration was concerned when he recently suggested that an ‘’ immigration contract’’( a sort of American –like Green Card à la Française) be introduced in which new immigrants could be given an opportunity to integrate effectively in French society in ways that would enable them learn the French language and later be gainfully employed.

Africagora President Ivorian businessman Dogad Dogoui welcomed the new initiative by President Chirac saying this marked a shift in the often topsy turvy immigration stand taken by successive governments and a hint of progress on the matter but he said a more aggressive, voluntary policy was needed for concrete changes to be realised on issues affecting immigrant communities.

For starters he noted that the ‘’traditional obstacles’’ which he described as being largely institutionally based needed to be ironed out to provide opportunities for advancement for immigrant communities in France.

But for the immigrant community in France to effectively make its presence ‘’ felt’’ as well as influence political decisions on issues affecting them in France Dogoui suggested that they needed to constitute an economic force hence the reason for the emergence of his club Africagora created in 1999 which seeks not only to advance black economic empowerment in French society but also integrate French values that contribute to the development of France without losing sight of their original African cultures and values.

For Dogoui the theme of the day long discussions at the French National Assembly centred on ‘’ Mixed Race in France’’ was deliberately chosen as it effectively described the French society today.

"It is a reality that France is today a mixed race society and this reality must be reflected through integration of this mixed race in the socio-economic and institutional life of French society…. For instance if you walk around the streets today you see Africans, Afro- Caribbean, Arabs, Chinese, Asians etc but when you go to parliament you never find them represented and this is what we are saying must change.’’ Dogoui stated.

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