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Tuesday 4 July 2023

Paris: A tale of two cities

Australians have been officially warned about travel to France, and Paris in particular.

One of the world's most beautiful cities is in crisis. But that comes as no surprise.

In the several years I spent living in Paris, I became used to regular strikes and demonstrations, while the grèves and manifestations were often annoying they were rarely threatening.

This time things are different - a large underclass from the banlieux has had enough of prejudice, racism and victimisation.

As many visitors to Paris will be aware; there are two very different sides to Paris. 

Inside the Peripherique, the ring road that encircles the city, life is good for a well-off, largely white and privileged community.

Outside the Peripherique is different world - a consequence of France's failed colonial policies.

In high-rise apartments in suburbs like Clichy, Bondy and Sarcelles (above), or Lyon Villeurbanne and Vaulx-en-Velin in Lyon, and some northern arrondissements of Marseille, are populated by the children and grandchildren of waves of post-war immigrants from Algeria and Morocco - and increasingly from sub-Saharan Africa.

These often second- and third-generation French people are frequently looked down upon, find it hard to find any work other than menial labour, and are often hassled by the police should they venture outside their suburban near ghettoes to the city.

The latest unrest was sparked by the death of a 17-year-old delivery driver in the suburb of Nanterre - by a police officer who now faces manslaughter (why not murder?) charges.

It lit a powderkeg.

Several people have died or sustained injuries at the hands of French police in recent years - nearly all of them from black or Maghreb backgrounds.

Minority groups and immigrants across France have long felt marginalized and discriminated against by the state - and the police. I have seen a person of North African descent shooed away from an upmarket shop. And young black people stopped and searched by police for no apparent reason.

“These young people rioting have watched their parents, their older siblings be discriminated against time and time again, and they’ve had enough,” Naima Iratni, president of Maison d’Algérie, a Paris-based non-profit that promotes cooperation between youths in France and Algeria, told the Christian Science Monitor newspaper.

“This generation - they’re 14 to 18 years old - is saying: ‘Stop.’ They will not accept it anymore.”

In a country where racism is endemic, and unemployment is rife, the riots are an appeal for more dignity. The chances of success, unfortunately, are slim.

So travellers should certainly be careful where they wander.

The Australian Government's SmartTraveller site is warning: "Exercise a high degree of caution in France due to the threat of terrorism."

It adds: "Be particularly vigilant at night and avoid all demonstrations and areas with significant police activity. Curfews have been introduced in some cities. Public transport may be restricted or cancelled. The situation may change at short notice. Monitor the media and official sources for updates.

"Violent attacks against tourists can occur, especially late at night in tourist areas. Robbery and muggings are common on trains to/from Paris airports. Conceal your valuables. Don't walk in quiet or poorly lit streets at night."

So please be careful out there.

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