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FEAR IN FRANCE! - French-Jamaicans worried that backlash from terrorist attacks could see them targeted

Published:Sunday | November 22, 2015 | 11:00 AMRyon Jones
Members of a group hold a banner to cheer a group of migrants arriving in the north of Paris, France, last month. But now the welcome is muted following the recent attacks.

Scores of Jamaicans living in France are fearful as an anti-immigrant wave sweeps across the country after the recent terrorist attacks in Paris.

No Jamaicans were among the 130 persons killed in Paris in a series of coordinated terrorist attacks last weekend, consisting of mass shootings, suicide bombings, and hostage-taking on November 13, but the backlash is starting to affect immigrants, and Jamaicans could be caught in the wave.

More than 200 Jamaicans are officially living in France, with the majority having journeyed there through a programme which allows persons such as university students to travel to the country to learn French and be teaching assistants.

Some are still studying while others have had their employers apply for them to stay, but there is growing concern among them that they could soon be forced out, as there is at least one political party that has been campaigning against the influx of immigrants into the country.

"It is called the National Front and they are very strict in terms of wanting to get rid of Schengen, they want to go back to the franc, so they want to leave the eurozone; they don't want to use the euro. They are very nationalistic, if you will," Eric Boucher, president of the Jamaican Association in France, told The Sunday Gleaner.

 

MIGRANTS FACE SCRUTINY

 

The far-right party is led by Marine Le Pen, who has long campaigned against France opening its borders to migrants out of fear that some of these persons could be terrorists.

Now with the French people angry and in mourning, the party with its message, has been enjoying increased popularity.

"Before people would support her in secret, but now she is getting a lot of support, and people are now openly supporting her," said Boucher.

"It is almost like the in thing is to support her. Since the attack, everybody you talk to has expressed the desire, or the belief, that she has a highway to victory, pretty much."

France is a welfare state which offers things such as free health care for everyone, housing assistance even if you are not French, while some residents are entitled to getting part of their rent paid by the State.

It is some of these benefits and practices that some French nationals such as Le Pen believe should be cut out, as these are said to be making the country attractive to immigrants, including persons who pose a threat to the country.

"They might want to send home Jamaicans, and one of the things they are saying is that jobs should be reserved for French people first," said the 34-year-old Boucher, who has resided in France for the past 13 years.

"Whether or not it would be possible for her to implement [changes] is another thing, but there would be need for Jamaicans to be concerned if she were to be elected. It won't be a good thing for Jamaicans, that's for sure."

According to Boucher, since Le Pen took the reins of the party, it has been getting more and more support, which saw it top the European elections in terms of popular votes.

However, based on the fact that France utilises a two-round voting system, he does not believe, or is hoping, that the increased popularity does not automatically translate into seats.

In the two-round voting system, if no candidate receives the required number of votes, those candidates having less than a certain proportion of the votes, or all but the two candidates receiving the most votes are eliminated, and a second round of voting occurs.

"She has finished, for the last two elections, as the party that has received the most votes, but that is in the first round. In the second round, there tends to be like a national coalition of all the other parties against them," Boucher said.

"We do have local government election coming up in December, and based on the polls, they might score their biggest victory.

"What has happened has significantly heightened her chances because her party was the only party that was saying for months that the migrants should not be accepted, because they might be terrorists, we need to be careful. So now, it is like what she had been saying came true."

 

UNCERTAINTY

 

With France's next presidential election due in two years, and there being a real possibility that La Pen could go a step further than her father did 11 years ago when he made it to the second round, there is urgency among the Jamaicans, some of whom have started families, to gain citizenship.

"A number of Jamaicans who have been living here for a period of time have been thinking about maybe applying for French citizenship because we are not sure what might happen in the next presidential election in another two years," said Boucher.

"A lot of Jamaicans have expressed that desire because a lot of people have been living here for a long time and they are like 'we don't know what might happen'."

Boucher said conversely, there are a few persons who have been reconsidering since the series of terrorist attacks and are contemplating returning to Jamaica.

"I have spoken to one or two Jamaicans who have said to me that now they don't think they want the French passport anymore, as it might not be a positive thing to have."

ryon.jones@gleanerjm.com