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Muslim professionals quit 'hostile' France in silent brain drain


May 17, 2024 04:23 PM

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After being knocked back at some 50 interviews for consulting jobs in France despite his ample qualifications, Muslim business school graduate Adam packed his bags and moved to a new life in Dubai.

"I feel much better here than in France," the 32-year-old of North African descent told AFP.

"We're all equal. You can have a boss who's Indian, Arab or a French person," he said.

"My religion is more accepted."

Highly-qualified French citizens from Muslim backgrounds, often the children of immigrants, are leaving France in a quiet brain drain, seeking a new start abroad in cities like London, New York, Montreal or Dubai, according to a new study.

The authors of "France, you love it but you leave it", published last month, said it was difficult to estimate exactly how many.

But they found that 71 percent of more than 1,000 people who responded to their survey circulated online had left in part because of racism and discrimination.

Adam, who asked that his surname not be used, told AFP his new job in the United Arab Emirates has given him fresh perspective.

In France "you need to work twice as hard when you come from certain minorities", he said.

He said he was "extremely grateful" for his French education and missed his friends, family and the rich cultural life of the country where he grew up.

But he said he was glad to have quit its "Islamophobia" and "systemic racism" that meant he was stopped by police for no reason.

- 'Humiliating' -

France has long been a country of immigration, including from its former colonies in North and West Africa.

But today the descendants of Muslim immigrants who came to France seeking a better future say they have been living in an increasingly hostile environment, especially after the Islamic State jihadist attacks in Paris in 2015 that killed 130 people.

They say France's particular form of secularism, which bans all religious symbols in public schools including headscarves and long robes, seems to disproportionately focus on the attire of Muslim women.

Another French Muslim, a 33-year-old tech employee of Moroccan descent, told AFP he and his pregnant wife were planning to emigrate to "a more peaceful society" in southeast Asia.

He said he would miss France's "sublime" cuisine and the queues outside the bakeries.

But "we're suffocating in France", said the business school graduate with a five-figure monthly salary.

He described wanting to leave "this ambient gloom", in which television news channels seem to target all Muslims as scapegoats.

The tech employee, who moved to Paris after growing up in its lower-income suburbs, said he has been living in the same block of flats for two years.

"But still they ask me what I'm doing inside my building," he said.

"It's so humiliating."

"This constant humiliation is even more frustrating as I contribute very honestly to this society as someone with a high income who pays a lot of taxes," he added.

- 'Second-class citizens' -

A 1978 French law bans collecting data on a person's race, ethnicity or religion, which makes it difficult to have broad statistics on discrimination.

But a young person "perceived as black or Arab" is 20 times more likely to face an identity check than the rest of the population, France's rights ombudsman found in 2017.

The Observatory for Inequalities says that racism is on the decline in France, with 60 percent of French people declaring they are "not at all racist".

But still, it adds, a job candidate with a French name has a 50 percent better chance of being called by an employer than one with a North African one.

A third professional, a 30-year-old Franco-Algerian with two masters degrees from top schools, told AFP he was leaving in June for a job in Dubai because France had become "complicated".

The investment banker, the son of an Algerian cleaner who grew up within Paris, said he enjoyed his job, but he was starting to feel he had hit a "glass ceiling".

He also said he had felt French politics shift to the right in recent years.

"The atmosphere in France has really deteriorated," he said, alluding to some pundits equating all people of his background to extremists or troublemakers from housing estates.

"Muslims are clearly second-class citizens," he said.

Adam, the consultant, said more privileged French Muslims emigrating was just the "tiny visible part of the iceberg".

"When we see France today, we're broken," he said.


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