As the French coastal city Nice mourns the loss of life left in the wake of a Bastille Day terror attack, growing anxiety has surfaced among many African Muslim immigrants fearing retaliatory violence. While the Bastille Day attack brought a single immigrant, the Tunisian-born Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, to the attention of French citizens, according to a survey by the television network France 24, anti-immigrant sentiments have simmered just beneath the surface for more than a decade.
A soldier stands next to a half staff French flag, at the Elysee palace in Paris, Friday, July 15, 2016. French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said the government is declaring three days of national mourning after the attack in Nice that left at least 84 people dead. Speaking after an emergency meeting, Valls said the national mourning would begin Saturday. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)
Research conducted by France 24 in conjunction with INSEE, France’s national statistical agency, indicated that in 2013, the unemployment rate for all immigrants was approximately 17.3 percent, nearly 80 percent higher than the non-immigrant rate of 9.7 percent. Descendants of immigrants from Africa said that they have a difficult time finding work. The report found that education and skill levels only explain 61 percent of the difference in employment rates between descendants of African immigrants and those whose parents were born in France, noting that racism and nationalist views account for the remaining sentiments.
“The nation has a xenophobia that arises within far-right circles in times of crisis, but the reality is that it has been difficult for the nation to demonstrate both global altruism by allowing distressed immigrants into country, and assimilating them into the nation in a way that doesn’t leave them vulnerable to exploitation,” French immigrant Abena Adeyemi, told the AFRO. “Terror attacks against citizens perpetrated by Muslims create levels of anxiety among a lot of Africans who have been corralled into public housing and cannot find work.”
Adeyemi, who was born in Kassala Sudan, said she moved first to Calais, France as a student and then immigrated several years later after unrest in her homeland made it unsafe to return. France’s weakened economy, according to Adeyemi, has slowly turned a space that once readily accepted foreigners into one with strict rules, including random stop and search procedures and micro-aggressive encounters with average residents.
“I am Muslim, but I am inculcated by my education, the professional neighborhood where I live, and my work as a physician,” Adeyemi told the AFRO. “Between the Paris terror attacks in November  and the Bastille Day attack, many of my less fortunate friends have been cursed in the street or spat upon. They worry about going to mosque or being on public transport in certain areas.”
Across France, the far-right National Front party, which counts Nice as a stronghold, has doggedly attacked French President François Hollande’s tolerance position, calling for jihadist violence and ISIS-inspired domestic terrorism to be met with deportation, closed borders, and violence. “I understand the fear and even the desire to retaliate against immigrants – Africans and Muslims especially because they are easy to identify – but the attacks have nothing to do with the good people here trying to make a good living and be good citizens,” Nuru Babangida, a graduate student at the Ecole Polytechnique – Paris, told the AFRO. “Racial profiling by the police where you are stopped and searched proved humiliating, but I guess they are necessary… I just pray that the killings stop so that the nation can get back to normal.”
Stop and search procedures began throughout France following several attacks in 2015, including an attack on an American-owned chemical factory near Lyon in June 2015 and two in January 2015, when 12 people were murdered at the satirical news outlet Charlie Hebdo and then, days later, four hostages were killed at a kosher supermarket. Like other European nations, France has a long and complicated relationship with the Muslim world and its own immigrant population, many of whom have been in the country for generations. “This was my father’s second home and has become mine as well,” Babangida said. “Unfortunately, right now, my home does not feel very welcoming.”