Ce diaporama a bien été signalé.
Colonial Origins of Housing Segregation in
Modern-Day Implications of Discrimination Against Algerians
By Elizabeth A. de Ubl
Department of Political Science
Advisor: Adria Lawrence
December 11, 2015
“The violence which has ruled over the ordering of the colonial world, which has
ceaselessly drummed the rhythm for the destruction of native social forms and
broken up without reserve the systems of reference of the economy, the customs of
dress and external life, that same violence will be claimed and taken over by the
native at the moment when, deciding to embody history in his own person, he
surges into the forbidden quarters.”
-Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, p. 40
I would like to thank Professor Adria Lawrence for her support in this project as
my thesis advisor. Her guidance and recommendations were extremely valuable,
and I appreciate our meetings and her reviews of my progress throughout the
semester. I feel very fortunate to have had the opinion of an expert on North
African politics while conducting my research.
I am also grateful for the readings and discussions in Professor Boris Kapustin’s
Moral Choices in Politics seminar, which sparked my interest in Algeria and
caused me to think more closely about colonial explanations for present-day issues.
Finally, thanks to David Simon and Blaine Hudson for encouraging me as I started
this endeavor and helping me to plan its execution. The Yale Political Science
Department is filled with dedicated people, and I never could have written this
paper without all that I’ve learned from them in the past few years.
In October and November of 2005, riots broke out in Clichy-sous-Bois, a community in
the suburbs of Paris, after two young men died in a power plant while hiding from police.
Youths in the housing projects were tired of long interrogations, being required to present
identification, and even being held for hours at the police station without committing a crime.
Unemployment rates were high and tensions in this poor, immigrant community had been ignited,
with the riots quickly spreading throughout France. After thousands of cars and buildings were
set on fire, France declared a state of emergency for three weeks, which was ultimately extended
to three months. Curfews were imposed with the threat of imprisonment, a rule that had not been
used by France since the Algerian War (Hussey, 2014).
Unfortunately, violence and rioting are often associated with Algerians and North African
Muslims living in France, with a sharp division in French society between whites and the
“immigrant” other. Despite the significant role of colonialism and immigration in the modern
relationship between France and Algeria, the history between these two nations does not
frequently appear in public discourse as an explanation for such problems. French politicians
often decry flows of immigration from North Africa as threatening, such as right-wing
conservative Jean-Marie Le Pen, who has used the phrase “immigration invasion” and
derogatory descriptions of Muslims in his speeches and writings (Le Parisien, 2012). Yet the
historical influence France exerted on Algerians in its role as a colonizing power should be
examined to help understand current race dynamics.
Recent laws help illustrate how French society has fallen short in grappling with issues of
race. In 2004 France reinterpreted the concept of laïcité, or secularism, to mean that all forms of
religious expression should not be allowed in the public sphere, including the hijab worn by
some Muslim women. In 2013 France’s National Assembly passed a bill that declared France
would not formally recognize race and even went so far as to remove the word “race” from laws.
These measures may seem equalizing on the surface, but they actually served to incite tensions.
Rejecting real differences in race and religion does not erase the social discord in France that has
been mounting steadily over the past decades. Instead, analysis and recognition of past crimes
and mistakes have the potential to inform policy decisions that could promote racial integration.
This paper will study Algerian migration and immigration patterns starting in the colonial
period, the treatment these individuals received once in France, and how this treatment has
impacted the present situation and their lack of integration into French society. Though the racial
discrimination problems I discuss might extend to all Muslims in France, the paper focuses on
Algerians since they constitute the largest proportion of Muslims in the country, and tensions
between Algerians and the ethnic French are notorious.
I will start with providing historical context in order to establish a foundation for
understanding the relationship between Algeria and France and violence that has erupted on both
sides. Then I will track the migration flows to France, noting specifically what types of
discrimination Algerians faced when searching for housing. Descriptions of the housing they
obtained, including location, will provide insight into how their settlements have morphed into
“les banlieues,” or current suburbs in France comprised of housing projects that are
predominantly inhabited by immigrants. Evidence of persistent housing discrimination is
provided in sections III and V through both a first-hand account and a report of the many
governmental initiatives and types of organizations developed to manage the issue. These
sections demonstrate that current banlieues and the problems that arise from them resulted
directly from colonial disparities. I will also use comparative case studies of two cities, Paris and
Marseille, to show that rioting and violence can be associated with segregated housing on the
peripheries of cities.
I will argue that the current race relation crisis between ethnic French and Algerians
derived, in part, from housing discrimination and segregation that occurred as Algerians
immigrated to France both before and after the Algerian War. Because location and quality of
housing is so closely correlated with education opportunities, discriminatory housing policies can
have a remarkable impact on a family’s ability to successfully integrate in a new country. If the
immigrant youth cannot receive adequate education, they will also be disadvantaged when
seeking employment opportunities, and a cycle of poverty develops. My aim is not to outline all
the factors that have created and exacerbated this ethnic divide, but to call attention particularly
to the contribution of housing segregation. Factors like xenophobia and secularism, while
important to consider, are thus not the focus of this paper.
II. Historical Context
When European nations inserted themselves in foreign lands as colonizers, they severely
stifled development through extractive exploitation, displacement of natives, and establishment
of racial hierarchies. Acemoglu, Johnson, and Robinson (2001) have determined that various
strategies European countries used in different colonies were often dependent on whether they
could settle and establish communities, or if they faced harsh conditions and would primarily
extract resources. France was a major player in the colonial era, holding the second largest
empire in the world (Aldrich, 1996). After losing many of its conquests to Great Britain and
other nations following wars in the 1700-1800s, France began focusing its efforts mainly in
Africa and Southeast Asia. Algeria was initially invaded in 1830, and by 1852 France had
obtained control over the entire country. Though France typically sent few settlers to its colonies,
Algeria was a clear exception. Rather than viewing Algeria as a trove of natural resources for the
taking, many French citizens conceptualized the North African nation as closer to France, both in
proximity and its potential to be assimilated, compared with other African colonies like modern-
day Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Gabon, Congo, or Chad.
There were several features of French rule in Algeria that were unique compared with its
involvement in other regions. The phrase Algérie française had a connotation encompassing not
just the occupation of the country, but the desire to integrate Algeria into France. While French
colonists carried their “civilizing mission” (mission civilisatrice) throughout the Empire, forcing
French culture and language upon indigenous populations and encouraging their conversion to
Christianity, it took on a slightly different tone in Algeria. In categorizing the Arab, Bedouin,
and Berber ethnic groups in Algeria within the greater context of Africa, the French seemed to
identify them along a continuum, ranging from “savages” to a “half-civilization” of Kabyle
Berbers, closer to the French republican model (Silverstein, 2004, p. 48). From 1849 to 1870,
France was ruled by Louis-Napoléon, or Napoleon III, who outwardly expressed concern for
Algerians and referred to their nation as an “Arab kingdom” rather than a colony (Naylor, 1994,
p. 13). Since many French settlers in Algeria were unsatisfied with the military rule that had been
established, Napoleon III inaugurated a Ministry of Algeria and the Colonies in 1858, though
both Algerian Muslims and the French military protested against this and he dismantled it shortly
thereafter. After visiting Algeria, Napoleon III enacted two policies, the Sénatus-Consulte 1863
and the Sénatus-Consulte 1865 that aimed to protect Muslim tribal lands and offer Algerians the
status of French nationals, respectively (Brett, 1988, p. 453).
However, it would be shortsighted to characterize French rule in Algeria as any better than
the standard colonial exploitation and demeaning practices typically used in other places. In
reality, Napoleon III’s changed system of land ownership worked strongly against native
Algerians, allowing colonists to expropriate land even more easily than before. The Sénatus-
Consulte of 1865 only served to ascribe a status of “French subject” to Algerian Muslims, since
very few people chose to renounce Islam and their cultural heritage to attempt gaining French
citizenship (Lawrence, 2013, p. 74). French rule after Napoleon III became significantly harsher,
with the Native Code of 1881 imposing restrictions and penalties on Algerians, leading to several
uprisings. As mining and agricultural production were developed, the next several decades would
further divide the colonists (French citizens) and the Algerians (French subjects). Nevertheless,
Algeria was more integrated into the French administrative system than other colonies and was
seen as an extension of metropolitan France.
The colonial era and the exertion of France’s power and dominance over Algerians is
important to my analysis, as it marks the beginning of the close, interdependent relationship
between these two nations. The racial discrimination imposed on Algerians by the French may
have started in the nineteenth century, but it persists today and manifests in similar ways.
III. Migration Patterns
During the colonial period, France dismantled communities in some areas of Algeria
through the imposition of a market economy and the displacement of farmers and peasants. The
colonists implemented regroupement policies, or relocation to support French interests in the
region (Loyal, 2009, p. 407). The violence of France’s expansion, from its original control over
the three coastal cities of Algiers, Oran, and Bône to its vast holdings throughout North Africa,
left many Algerians without land or livelihood. Some Algerians were thus employed by
European settlers as house servants, tenant-farmers, miners, assistants to merchants, or workers
in ports as trade between France and Africa amplified. A significant number of Algerians
enlisted in the French military, participating in many conflicts around the world as tirailleurs
indigènes. Reliance on colonial labor throughout the Empire naturally lent itself to recruitment of
Algerian migrants by large companies based in France. By 1912, only 4,000 Algerians were
working in France (Adida, Laitin, & Valfort, 2014, p.15). But flows of Algerian men emigrating
for work increased substantially on account of World War I and the need for cheap, industrial
labor. Algerian migration could be classified in two distinctive categories: male workers entering
France for temporary work during the beginning of the twentieth century and the post-1947
inflows of both individuals and family groups seeking more permanent settlement.
Sayad (2004, p. 41) characterized the first flux of emigration from Algeria in the early
1900s as a “major exodus of rural populations” comprised of able-bodied young men. There
were a couple factors that propelled such a large portion of Algerian migrants to France. After
the mass destruction of villages and loss of their farmland, many families felt compelled to send
capable men to France for financial support. Then mandatory military conscription for Algerian
Muslims was instituted in 1912. About one-third of the Algerian male population between ages
20-40 was moved to France to contribute to the war effort, including 172,000 native Algerian
soldiers and 119,000 native Algerian workers (Aissaoui, 2011, p. 215; Lewis, 2007, p. 190).
Furthermore, the Governor-General in Algeria had issued a decree in 1874 that required
Algerians to possess a special travel permit in order to enter France. The decree was abolished in
1913, which enabled more Algerians to seek work in France. The first migrants came
predominantly from the Kabylia region of Algeria, a mountainous area near the Mediterranean,
and most traveled back and forth between Algeria and France (Sayad, 2004). An urbanization
process within Algeria developed alongside the emigration trend as rural communities were
severely weakened by this drain on its workforce. Migrant workers in France were first
concentrated mostly in the Provence-Côte d’Azur region around Marseilles, and industrial and
mining areas near Paris, Lyon-St Etienne, Lorraine, and the Pas-de-Calais region (Aissaoui,
2008). France depended on these workers. During the interwar period and the depression in the
1930s, Algeria accounted for 45 percent of France’s exports and produced 40 percent of its
imports (Aldrich, 1996). The growing economic interdependence between the two regions also
led to an increase in human capital transfer to France. At this time, Algerian migrants in France
had reached over 85,000 (Aissaoui, 2011, p. 215). The flow of migrant workers between Algeria
and France would be significant not only for the gradual establishment of Algerian communities
in France, but also for the growing nationalist movement as Algerians sought political rights and
Algerians were not the only migrant workers in France—starting in the 19th
century it was
common for young men from Italy, Spain, Belgium, Poland, and Germany to work there
temporarily or seasonally and send money home (Maussen, 2009, p. 107). Colonial migrants
were often brought in as a way of reducing the bargaining power of unions and ending their
strikes. Therefore, inherent competition and resentment existed between the low-skilled
European employees, and the Maghrebi “strike-breakers” who would work for lower wages
(idem, p. 109). It was common for companies to provide housing for foreign workers, often in
hostels or barracks, but some had to procure their own accommodations in boarding houses or
shantytowns. The segregated areas where Algerian migrant workers lived soon became
settlements as family members and acquaintances from their villages arrived in France as well.
Because of the pervading racism towards North African Muslims, the Algerian migrant workers
received different treatment in the allocation of housing in comparison to their European
counterparts. A special organization was created in 1925, called Service des Affaires Indigènes
Nord-Africains (SAINA), to oversee the Algerian migrants, distribute their housing, and even
discipline them (ibid.). Pierre Godin, the president of the Municipal Council of Paris, led an
initiative to develop a system of services and surveillance targeting North African immigrants,
which mostly relied on dormitory housing for workers that could be easily monitored (Lyons,
2013, p. 25).
Beginning around 1947, a trend developed where workers and their families started
settling permanently. Experiences of immigrants during this time offer a window into the
paradox of official French policy towards Algerians in France—at once claiming equality and at
the same time distinguishing them as a particular type of citizen, the Français musulmans
d’Algérie, French Muslims of Algeria. In 1947 the French National Assembly passed the Statute
of Algeria, which officially designated Algeria as three French departments and allowed for the
creation of an Algerian Assembly. It also granted Algerian men some qualities of French
citizenship, though restrictions and limitations were placed on their citizenship status (Lawrence,
2013, p 105). Despite granting free movement between the two regions, deportations were
commonly used to remove Algerians from France (Lyons, 2013, p. 36-37). The immigration
policy had changed several times since the start of the twentieth century, generally in response to
labor demands. Between 1947 and 1953, 740,000 Algerians arrived in France, with a significant
number also returning home (Forward, 2001, p. 72). It was more common during this time for
family members to accompany male workers. Though the French ostensibly worked to assimilate
Algerians into the republic, the efforts to do so took on the unrestrained tone of dealing with a
problem, rather than welcoming new citizens.
The racism faced by Algerians in France during this time period has been well documented.
Sayad (2004) has taken a sociological approach to understanding Algerian migrants and their
interaction with French society by interviewing several individuals. Below is an excerpt from an
…Keep your distance, don’t be hostile towards them – as if we were hostile when it’s
always us that’s gets the hostility. So why mix with them [the French]? What reason
do you have to mix with them? As little as possible is best….Stay amongst us, and
you’ll see: racism and racists don’t exist!...Racism has always existed, but it does not
exist when we are amongst ourselves. Stay in your room, amongst your brothers,
they’re all like you so there’s nothing to be afraid of, no one knows you, you don’t
know anyone. (48)
The segregation that occurred as Algerian workers entered France was partially self-imposed, yet
partially facilitated by both French citizens and the French government. The decision to live and
remain amongst the Algerian community was induced by the lack of security felt by migrant
workers on account of racism experienced. Police frequently harassed Algerians, and colonial
military officials were commonly brought to France to manage the dormitories of workers
(Lyons, 2013, p. 25). Additionally, many places of residence simply would not accept Algerians,
with French landlords often worrying about the damage it might cause to the reputation of the
building and neighborhood (Lyons, 2013, p. 4).
Furthermore, the nuanced approach of the French government can be seen through the
separate welfare services network established to meet the supposed special needs of Algerians
(Lyons, 2013). The aims of organizations such as the North African Family Social Service
(SSFNA) were to convert Algerians to French habits, monitor them, and eradicate nationalism.
Though there were several service providers who tried to support Algerians in a variety of ways,
one main problem was difficult to overcome: housing managers often refused to accept Algerian
residents in their apartment complexes. Experts at the time insisted that housing was the
“determinant factor” in Algerians’ “integration” (Lyons, 2013, p. 116). As a result of their
inability to find reasonable housing, most families spent some amount of time in bidonvilles after
arriving in France. These slums were known for being muddy and unsanitary, often without
electricity or plumbing (See Appendix 1). Organizations such as the Société Nationale de
Construction de Logements pour les Travailleurs (SONACOTRA) were ultimately tasked by the
French government with developing foyers pour travailleurs étrangers, or hostels for the migrant
workers that aimed to improve upon the conditions seen in bidonvilles. The foyers were certainly
more suitable for living, but they effectively segregated the Algerian workers from the rest of the
population. Few housing facilities were provided for families, as well.
In addition to the problem of Algerian housing needs and discrimination from apartment
landlords, there were larger societal and political reasons that led to the development of social
housing. Firstly, a severe housing shortage arose in France following World War II, which
affected more than a third of the metropolitan population (Lyons, 2013, p. 14). Because most
migrant workers had found jobs in or near cities, Algerians were seeking housing in areas that
were overburdened. Many Algerians entered France in Marseille, a port city in the south of
France, where they could work as dockers or in the soap industry (Aissaoui, 2008). Then over
time they spread to other areas where work was available. Mines in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais were
also a significant source of employment, along with building, manufacturing, metal-working, and
public transport sector jobs in cities like Paris and Lyon. There were many factors that caused
police and French politicians to take notice of the squalid conditions of Algerians living on the
outskirts of France’s main cities. However, the decision in the late 1950s to early 1960s to
dismantle bidonvilles and provide alternative housing was less an effort to assist Algerians than a
move to offer security to the French from the encroaching immigrants. A police memo in 1954
describes the issue:
[The North African population] has been concentrated in the most abandoned
neighborhoods ... at the very gates of Paris, veritable ‘Bidonvilles’ have been
constituted and progressively this pacific invasion, coming closer and closer, has
conquered the near totality of the Parisian agglomeration (Byrnes, 2013, p. 3).
In a similar fashion as politician Jean-Marie Le Pen, the writer uses the word “invasion” and
seems apprehensive about the impact of the immigrants on the French living in Paris, rather than
harboring concern for the situation of the Algerians themselves. In fact, 1954 was the year in
which the Algerian War started. While public health concerns certainly prompted the initiative,
concerns about Algerian nationalists developing a front in the bidonvilles probably took
During the Algerian War from 1954-1962, violence erupted in both Algeria and France.
The war was initially described with euphemisms, such as les événements d’Algérie [events], or
le maintien de l’ordre [peace-keeping], despite it being a savage conflict with torture and war
crimes committed (McCormack, 2008, p. 118). There was still a steady flow of Algerian
migrants entering France, and systemic racism remained a powerful force in French society.
Algerians in bidonvilles were seen as a threat, given the potential for the National Liberation
Front (FLN) to organize and demand support from these desperate communities. The FLN
started orchestrating bombings and attacks on police stations in France in 1958. French police
began to take thousands of Algerians into custody in identity-check operations (House, 2008). As
the FLN increased its resistance in France, Maurice Papon was brought over from Algeria in
1958 to lead the repression of the FLN as chief of police in Paris. In October 1961, many
Algerians were tired of the curfew imposed upon them by Papon, and they organized peaceful,
pro-independence demonstrations in opposition. Papon ordered the police to attack the 30,000
Algerians, an event which has been named the Paris Massacre of 1961. Estimates of the number
of victims range from 40 to 200 Algerians killed and thousands injured (House, 2008).
With increasing pressure to deal with the “Algerian problem,” public housing was one
solution provided, along with access to a rent-controlled housing system that was developed in
the 1950s for the greater population, called Habitation à Loyer Modéré (HLM). These housing
units still exist today and can be either public or private, apartment buildings or individual
houses. The Minister for Reconstruction and Urbanization, Eugène Claudius Petit, led the plan to
implement this new system of socially-subsidized residences, which was based on a charity-
subsidized housing system, HBM (Habitation à bon marché) founded in 1889. The architecture
and development of HLM estates was similar to their counterparts in Britain, Scandinavia, the
Soviet Union, and the United States, primarily taking the form of enormous, multi-family
apartment complexes (Cupers, 2014). The period following WWII was a time of urbanization
and expansion in many areas of the world. Cupers (2014) claims that housing projects were an
area of great experimentation in France’s postwar modernization, with research institutes,
consulting firms, and architects trying to build the right spaces for consumers. The interesting
political dimension of the projects also led to a concentration of HLMs in the “red suburbs,” or
more communist-leaning areas of France like Saint-Denis, while conservative areas were more
likely to resist them (Cupers, 2014). Yet this experiment was barely available to Algerians, with
families often being moved to the bottom of waiting lists behind applications from French and
European families (Lyons, 2013, p. 167).
During the tumultuous time of the Algerian War, there was an increase in the overt
discrimination towards Muslim population, and both citizens and elected officials spoke out
against providing Algerians with social benefits. The bidonvilles were still a common sight on
the peripheries of cities, though social services organizations continued to advocate for better
housing options. When the bidonvilles were destroyed without adequate relocation plans,
Algerian families were often left homeless (Lyons, 2013, p. 195). In the early 1960s, the Social
Action Fund (FAS) and SONACTRA were instructed by the Interior Ministry to provide housing
solutions for Algerian families. These organizations established contracts with HLM companies
to build new, separate complexes. Social workers would only approve Algerian families for
moving into HLM apartments if they deemed them ready, deserving, and able to adapt to French
society (Lyons, 2013, p. 138). Transitional housing projects (cités de transit) were developed,
often in the form of mobile homes, as an intermediary step before Algerian families could be
allowed to live amongst the French. Though many people involved in this system feared the
permanent segregation of Algerians, the weak plans to encourage integration with the rest of the
French population were not successful. These included a quota system, where most of the new
HLM apartments were reserved for French families that were not Algerian, and an exchange
program, where regular HLM companies would allow a certain number of Algerian families to
live in their buildings (Lyons, 2013, p. 178). Data is difficult to collect, but it seems that many
Algerian families never made it to the HLM apartments. Some HLM companies would accept
subsidies from the Social Action Fund with promises to accept a set amount of Algerian
residents, only to change those plans when the apartments opened and restrict the apartments to
white families (Lyons, 2013, p. 198).
In addition, the focus on housing Algerians waned significantly after Algerian
Independence in 1962. Algerians were no longer posing a nationalist threat, so the interest in
offering welfare services lost critical support. According to Lyons (2013, p. 201), the special
services of the Algerian welfare network were now extended to encompass the many people
fleeing Algeria after the war: French and European colonists, Algerian French veterans (harkis),
and various officials. The impact of the 900,000 repatriates from Algeria entering France in 1962
burdened the housing system further (Hunt, 1992). However, there was a completely different
approach to accommodating the white European colonists and the Algerian harkis. SONACTRA
immediately started assigning “repatriated” Europeans to HLM apartments, and policies were
established to assist them in settling and finding jobs (Lyons, 2013). Meanwhile, harkis and their
families were placed in internment camps with severe limits on their freedom (Choi, 2011).
French officials delegated difficult and undesirable jobs to the harkis and even had separate
schools within the camps for the children (Lyons, 2013, p. 201).
Adding to the dilemma, there were still flows of native Algerians entering France. When
the Evian Accords were signed in 1962 granting Algeria’s independence, there were around
300,000 Algerians living in France (Heisler, 1985, p. 476). These individuals were given the
right to choose between Algerian and French citizenship. When immigrants and migrant workers
continued entering France, the Evian agreement was renegotiated to limit entrance to 12,000
Algerian workers per year, and later, 35,000 per year (ibid.). The end of the Algerian War and
influx of people entering the country started to raise an anti-immigrant response in France.
Growing concern over mixed marriages also led to criticism of Algerian immigration, with the
National Institute for Demographic Studies (INED) estimating that there were over 6,000
Algerian-European couples residing in France (Lyons, 2013, p. 35). The 1970s saw an economic
crisis and increased tensions between Algeria and France, through incidents such as the Algerian
government nationalizing the French oil industry. With France experiencing a significant shift in
sentiment and policy to restrict immigration, the conservative-led government halted
immigration completely in 1974.
While HLMs initially offered improved housing for some Algerians, the social diversity
in HLMs declined rapidly in the 1970s. Middle class households eventually left HLMs to
become owners, leaving room for more immigrants and low-class workers to fill their places. As
the demographics of the population within HLMs shifted, there were less repairs and renovations,
and perceptions towards this form of housing changed completely, to regard them as dangerous
or dilapidated and filled with poor immigrants. There also existed another form of social housing
commonly inhabited by Algerians and poor immigrants, the Prioritized Urban Zone (ZUP).
These zones included not just housing, but also other public services such as schools, roads,
utilities, and commercial, administrative, and cultural centers (Kinsey, 1969, p. 370). By 1967,
there were 173 ZUPs in France (ibid.). Because ZUPs were mostly housing minorities, Algerian
residents were highly isolated from the rest of French society. Even the actual architecture of the
ZUPs contributed to the feelings of isolation, with inadequate social spaces and apartment blocks
often facing inwards on a store, pharmacy, or fast food restaurant (Packer, 2015).
Though this paper does not provide much evidence in the way of primary sources
documenting housing discrimination faced by Algerians, it is clear through the foundation of
certain organizations that there was a need to deal with this issue. The period of about 1914-1962
is of interest, since it entails virtually all of the Algerian migration to France during the colonial
period. The response to housing discrimination began in the 1930s, when state agencies first
started to make single-sex dormitories available to North African immigrants. In 1951, Joseph
Leriche of the Cahiers nord-africains, made one of the first proposals to counteract exclusion of
Algerians from housing centers that had been built for the general population or even specifically
for immigrants (Lyons, 2013, p. 118). The president of the Aid Commission for North Africans
in the Metropole (CANAM) pushed for emergency housing in Paris for Algerian families in
1954 and suggested that discriminatory housing practices were to blame (Lyons, 2013, p. 132).
He noted that even Algerian men with a reasonable salary could not find housing for their
families. Another later example would be l’Association Villeurbannaise pour le Droit au
Logement (AVDL), which was founded in 1985 to fight for access to housing for all without
discrimination. The majority of people who sought assistance from this group were Maghrebi
immigrants (Lyons, 2013).
Some evidence exists to show the resistance of local officials and citizens towards
Algerian integration. Petitions were signed and circulated throughout communities to prevent
construction of Algerian workers’ dormitories. The subjectivity of bureaucrats can be traced
through their actions to slow the purchase or transfer of land for housing projects and set up
other roadblocks for fair distribution of housing to Algerians (Michel, 1957). Even if housing
managers turned away some Algerian families for the same reasons as they did other poor
families who had weak income security, other reasons they provided were clearly discriminatory.
Some feared that Algerian families “did not know how to maintain their homes,” or that they
would overcrowd the apartments with their relatives and friends, reducing the quality of the
building for neighbors (Lyons, 2013, p. 133). Others claimed that the cultural and religious
differences between Algerian and French families would be incompatible and undesirable. The
last bidonvilles and shantytowns weren’t demolished until 1977 (House, 2008). Thus, Algerians
were severely limited in their access to housing upon entering France during the colonial era. In
sections V and VII of this paper, I will discuss how this discrimination still exists, connecting it
to problems facing Algerians in France today.
IV. Case Studies of Paris and Marseille
In this section, I will provide a closer look into the housing policies in two important
French cities, Paris and Marseille. The different policies and programs developed for Algerians
in Marseille and in Paris provide an interesting comparison, though there are abundant
similarities. Because Marseille is a port city where many Algerians entered France, it had a
significant number of welcome centers. Yet these welcome centers were deceiving, as Marseille
was one of the worst places for Algerians to live. According to Lyons (2013, p. 120), the
dormitories available were mostly filled with Algerians being considered for repatriation due to
medical problems, unemployment, or other reasons, and employers were generally uninterested
in providing housing for their workers. In Marseilles, Algerians settled mostly in the St Martin
district near the Porte d’Aix, then at the end of the WWI, around the Vieux Port district
(Aissaoui, 2008). Unlike Algerians in the Greater Paris area who typically lived near factories in
the suburbs, Algerians in Marseille were often living downtown near the docks.
A demographic study in 1955 by urban planner Feracci provides great insight into
municipal-level discrimination towards Algerians, focusing on the bidonville called Peyssonnel
in downtown Marseille (Nasiali, 2012). Of the 126 families living in Peyssonel, or 656 people,
many households had a steady income, and the majority of residents were actually French
(Nasiali, 2012, p. 5). Though this was only one bidonville out of many in Marseille, it is
interesting to note that the two major wars and economic depression of the 1930s had a marked
effect on many working-class families in France, not just foreign immigrants. In order to house
the families that were too “asocial” to move directly into apartments, Marseille constructed
“reduced norm housing” (Nasiali, 2012, p. 7). These apartments did not have hot water or central
heating and had only one toilet per floor (ibid.). Though the logic was quite similar to offering
transition housing in Paris, the form of the housing was slightly different than the mobile homes
there. Additionally, the site chosen for the reduced norm housing was in downtown Marseille.
Even though Feracci’s study characterized each household on scales of salubrité [hygiene] and
sociability and several French households scored lower, it was mostly North African and Roma
(gypsy) families that were moved to the transitional housing (Nasiali, 2012, p. 8). French
families were moved directly into HLM apartments.
In the Paris region, Algerians first settled primarily in the northeast areas outside the city,
in Saint-Denis, Aubervilliers, Pantin, and Les Lilas, the poorest part of the capital where 40% of
Algerians in the city lived, along with the northwest suburban industrial boroughs of Asnières,
La Garenne-Colombe, Courbevoie, Clichy, and Puteaux (Aissaoui, 2008). According to Byrnes
(2013), there was significant variance in policy and attitude towards North Africans at the local
level, even in the vicinity of the greater Paris area. By examining two suburbs of Paris, Saint-
Denis and Asnières-sur-Seine, Byrnes demonstrates their different motives. Saint-Denis aimed to
relocate North Africans from the bidonvilles to better housing within the city, while Asnières
destroyed the bidonvilles to relinquish their responsibility over the migrants’ well-being and to
use the land for developing new housing for French families. Because the plans within Saint-
Denis were not aligned with national-level policies, eventually the municipality gave up on
fighting for more funding to support the migrants and joined six other cities in 1974 to petition to
block new migrants from entering the community (Byrnes, 2013). There was a negative result for
Algerians living in both the municipalities of Saint-Denis and Asnières, but nevertheless,
politicians in Saint-Denis took a more compassionate approach to solving the housing crisis. In
general, Algerians in and around Paris were pushed towards the outskirts and suburbs.
Despite the fact that Algerians in Marseille were essentially placed into segregated housing
while their French counterparts received normal apartments, perhaps there is a slight difference
in the integration of Algerians in Marseille compared with those in Paris. It is interesting to note
that while the riots of October and November 2005 spread throughout many cities of France like
Lyon, Dijon, Nice, Lille, Bordeaux, and Strasbourg, they did not quite reach Marseille. Marseille
is the second largest metropolitan area in France and has a significant Algerian Muslim
population. However, I would argue that since Algerians and other North Africans were
relocated from bidonvilles to housing within the downtown area of Marseille, the difference in
spatial organization within the city may have had an impact on Algerian integration. The new
housing possibly allowed more interaction between different ethnicities, while the banlieues
around Paris serve to isolate Algerians more distinctly. Marseille also developed a strong public
transport network that includes a tramway passing through most neighborhoods. Savitch,
Iksandar, and Kaye-Essien (2015) claim that all parts of the city are connected well by high-
speed rail, tramway, metro or bus. This is not the case with many Parisian neighborhoods home
to Algerians. Of course there are still racial and social problems in Marseille as well, but it seems
as though these two populations of Algerians living in France have had different experiences to
some extent. Other factors that might contribute to this could be difference in local politics,
levels of multiethnic civic engagement, or economic discrepancies. However, the case of
Marseille strongly insinuates the importance of housing policies in race relations, integration,
and avoiding intergroup violence.
V. Present Discrimination
After the 1970s the narrative changed from assisting Algerians with social services to
focusing on the problem of immigration. This obsession with immigration and the problems it
supposedly engenders have hardly subsided. The French often refer to Algerian Muslims or non-
whites in general as immigrants or étrangers [foreigners], and whites are designated as français
de souche [French from the roots]. As noted by Packer (2015), this form of speech subtly implies
that those who are not white are less French, even though it is often the case that Algerian
Muslims hold citizenship and may be the second or even third generation in their family to have
been born in France. According to Sayad (2004), there were several events in which Algerian
and Muslim groups were implicated in public opinion, including commentaries on the Gulf War,
the ‘Islamic headscarf’ affair, the question of Muslim polygamy, and the entire discourse on
Islam and radical extremism that may stem from it (p. 274). As France distanced itself from its
colonial past, the Algerian population received less support. Since the 1970s and the rapid
deindustrialization seen in France, many suburbs of Paris and other French cities saw a reduction
in the number of factories and industrial jobs. This transition had detrimental effects for
Algerians living in these areas, with many individuals becoming unemployed and experiencing a
general decline in the quality of their neighborhoods. By the time of the 1990 census in France,
nearly 100,000 foreigners, 85 percent from Africa, were still living in hostels (INSEE, 1992a:
81). Between socioeconomic constraints and ostracism in French society, Algerians have much
to overcome and finding better housing is still a challenge.
Currently, many Algerians are still living in social and ethnic segregation distant from the
centers of cities, stuck in the exact same type of subsidized housing in the banlieues from the
postwar modernization. Some of these complexes have been partially dismantled in favor of
more decentralized structures, but the largest ZUP in France, Val-Fourré in the Parisian banlieue
of Mantes-la-Jolie, still houses more than 25,000 people (Silverstein, 2004, p. 94). The word
‘banlieue’ itself and its meaning in French can offer a view into problem. Though ‘banlieue’
would be defined as ‘suburb,’ it has now taken on a pejorative quality, practically meaning
“slums dominated by immigrants” (Packer, 2015). In a study by Beaman (2010), which involved
interviews of Parisians living in the banlieues, participants with solid incomes reported facing
difficulty in finding housing due to their Algerian background. Body-Gendrot (2010) claims that
many of the high-risk neighborhoods have unemployment rates of 18 percent on average, though
it can reach 40 percent (p. 659). At the same time, the average unemployment rate for all of
France was approximately 9 percent (ibid.). It is easy to connect poor housing situations to
reduced job opportunities. Disregarding the role of education, many employers will not consider
an applicant that lists an address in one of the high-risk districts (Packer, 2015). After the riots of
2005, the French government spent a substantial amount of money on raising living standards in
the poorer neighborhoods and tried to help create employment. Yet Clichy still has an
unemployment rate of around 25% and just one slow bus route into Paris, so the isolation of
these communities remains unchanged (Halligan, 2014). Since high proportions of Algerian
Muslims reside in the same locations that were settled before the Algerian War, the connection
between past and current discrimination is clear.
An interesting element of this phenomenon is the lack of awareness that average French
citizens tend to have surrounding the history of Algerian immigration and housing. As anecdotal
evidence, when I was speaking with a 24-year-old white French male about the bidonvilles that
existed in many French cities, he responded with disbelief. I was only able to convince him of
their existence by displaying photos taken at the time. Many have claimed that schools do not
provide an adequate, detailed history of France’s colonialism, including its relationship with
Algeria. McCormack states: “The Algerian War is little taught in schools…pupils may learn
about Empires and their respective ends, but touch little on any specific account of French
involvement in Algeria” (McCormack, 2011, p. 1134). In February 2005, a law was passed that
required school curricula to acknowledge the ‘positive role of France overseas’ (de Laforcade,
2006, p. 227). de Laforcade claims there was a public uproar in reaction to this act of “colonial
revisionism,” and several scholars petitioned against it (ibid.). Though the law was reworded, the
fact remains that the study of colonialism was not even included in university-level curricula
until the 1990s (de Laforcade, 2006). Simply improving education and promoting a general
understanding of the injustice faced by Algerians in France might help the situation.
It would be difficult to speculate how the Algerian population might differ today if they
had greater access to housing when first immigrating to France, but certainly there would have
been more interaction across races if options to live amongst the French were available. Algerian
families would most likely have preferred single-family homes or apartments in downtown areas
instead of being contained to less desirable buildings and locations. If this had been a frequent
outcome for new immigrants, Algerians probably would have entered better schools, enjoyed
better employment, and naturally assimilated into the fabric of French society. With
opportunities to exhibit this type of “model citizen” behavior, it is possible that the French would
have slowly become more welcoming to Algerians in a general sense. We cannot know for sure
how opportunities for Algerians could be expanded through housing policies alone, but it seems
reasonable to assume that current feelings of isolation and destitution in the banlieues could be
minimized. With improved opportunities and equality, there might be less violent rioting that
contributes to the negative perception some French whites form towards the Algerian community.
An area for further research could be looking into the small portion of families who were able to
secure decent apartments either on their own or with welfare assistance and evaluating the
socioeconomic status of those families and their descendants. Perhaps there might be a
significant difference between families who lived in normal apartment buildings and those who
never left the segregated ZUPs and HLMs.
VI. Counterarguments and Other Considerations
So far this paper has presented a rather negative report of the treatment Algerians have
faced in France. However, it should be clear that not everyone responded to the Algerian
migrants and immigrants with hostility or disdain. Many of the projects previously mentioned
came from charity organizations that were genuinely trying to assist a marginalized group. Some
social workers were arrested during the Algerian War for working for Algerians’ rights and still
continued to advocate for them. There were a host of private, charitable organizations that
received funding from the Ministry of the Interior, Labor, or Public Health to provide services to
the Algerian population (Lyons, 2013). By 1958, the height of the Algerian War, service
organizations spent 400 million francs a year on programs and aid for Algerians (Lyons, 2013, p.
45). Organizations often provided emergency or permanent housing. While soft racism was still
an underlying feature of many of these groups, transporting the “civilizing mission” from Algeria
to France, as scholars like Lyons and Silverstein have implied, that was not always the case. But
regardless of the intentions behind the housing assistance provided, the outcome remains the
same. As Algerians were given housing on the outskirts of French society, they were physically
kept from integrating.
A counterargument to my hypothesis could be that informal recruitment chains actually
drive immigration to certain locations, with family members or people from the same regions in
Algeria seeking familiarity and assistance from already-settled communities. While this certainly
does occur and could be documented in immigrant communities all over the world, it is the cycle
of racism and discrimination that pushes Algerian communities away from French society, along
with misguided efforts that led to segregated housing. Marginalization causes them to retreat and
seek support from one another, only to then reinforce the stereotypes cast upon them as isolated
and incapable of integrating. In short, withdrawal from French culture and society occurs as a
direct result from exclusion.
VII. Implications for France and Beyond
The importance of understanding the complex realities facing Muslims in France has
become painfully clear with recent events. In light of the terrorist attacks in Paris in January
2015 (Charlie Hebdo incident) and November 2015, much of the French population starts to
associate the “problematic” Algerian Muslims with this extremist, dangerous behavior. Therefore,
the attacks generate more stigmatization of Muslims as a group in France. Other violent crimes
and riots by Algerians contribute to this and create an excuse for the French to condemn and
disapprove of them. Though of course religiosity plays a role in these dynamic issues, it is
imperative to recognize that Islam itself does not drive people towards committing terrorism and
violence. Rather, there are many complex factors that lead to these acts, and one of them is
probably feeling as though they have no home in France. Algerian Muslims are treated as an
immigrant community, yet they have no country to return to. For many, they have spent their
entire lives in France and might not feel a strong connection to their Algerian heritage at all. The
concentration of Algerians in banlieues from the colonial era to present has created a sense of
desperation due to the lack of opportunities and mobility. The banlieues facilitate collective
action, sometimes dangerous, with such large groups of young people feeling forsaken by French
France’s relationship with Algerian immigrants and their descendants exposes deep-seated
concerns related to ethnicity, religion, and French identity. The excessive frustration towards
immigrant groups may be related to the confusing task of applying France’s republicanism in the
context of its integration into the European Union. Entering into a borderless Europe certainly
provokes fears of immigrants and their potential to overpower French values and absorb welfare
benefits rather than thrive independently and assimilate to French culture. There is great political
tension between those wishing to accept a multicultural France and those who wish to craft a
French identity based on race and religion. Expanding education on France’s colonial history,
both in schools and through other venues, could offer a first step in solving these problems. It’s
very important for citizens of all races in France to understand how history has led to issues that
Furthermore, new plans should be developed to improve housing, education, and
employment opportunities for minority populations. Rather than viewing disruptive behavior and
criminality by Algerian Muslims as a burden to French society that should be removed, it would
be more effective to approach the problem by asking questions and considering the
responsibilities the State should accept. What causes this behavior? What role does the French
government and its institutions play? How could these problems be mitigated and solved? While
there are no simple solutions, a top-down approach might help by allocating funding towards the
goal of increasing mixed neighborhoods and offering more choice in affordable housing.
In 2007 France passed the Droit au Logement Opposable (DALO), Enforceable Right to
Housing Law, which provides a legal cause of action for individuals who have been denied the
right to housing (Tar, Lum, & Paul, 2012). This law and successive amendments certainly helps
promote the rights of Algerians to obtain reasonable housing, but it doesn’t take into account the
particular racial dimension of the issue. It would also be interesting to consider the impact of
socialism in general, and whether the lack of a private real estate market for low-income
individuals and families contributes to segregation. It seems that migrant workers and
immigrants in countries like the U.S. do not experience such extreme segregation through public
housing. Though there is greater racial diversity in the U.S. in general, there is also greater
optionality for families seeking public housing. For example, 60% of public housing units are in
central cities, 21% are in rural and non-metropolitan areas, and 19% are in suburbs (Council of
Large Public Housing Authorities, 2007). It might be useful to analyze the possibility of
spreading social housing throughout different areas in France, both within cities and in more
Finally, studying Algerians living in France can provide insights that might be applied in
other countries. It may be difficult to extrapolate from this situation to other instances of
immigrant communities struggling to integrate, but the underlying problem of historical racism is
commonly present. For example, drawing on the work of Adida, Laitin, and Valfort (2014, p. 90),
we can try to understand why Muslim communities in Western countries seem to face even more
discrimination than other minority groups, and how the “discriminatory equilibrium,” where both
the ethnic French and French Muslims act negatively towards each other, can be broken. Their
work shows that host populations will often discriminate against Muslims even when no
particular hostility is expected from them, and, at the same time, “Muslims behave in ways that
feed rational Islamophobia” (Adida, Laitin, & Valfort, 2014, p. 10). Thus, in order to maintain
diversity and harness its proven value, both sides on this racial conflict need to evaluate how to
best live cohesively, whether in France or elsewhere. Finding successful strategies for doing do
should begin with acknowledgement of the root causes, including colonial housing segregation
and the continued impact on Algerians. Housing policy will only continue to become important
as gentrification threatens the diversity of urban centers. The experiences of Algerians in France
offer forewarning of unintentional residential segregation, but also reveal a potential area to
focus on for improving race relations.
Appendix 1 – Le Bidonville de Nanterre1
Acemoglu, Daron, Simon Johnson, and James A. Robinson. The colonial origins of comparative
development: An empirical investigation. No. w7771. National bureau of economic research,
Adida, Claire, David Laitin, and Marie-Anne Valfort. Why Muslim Integration Fails: An Inquiry
in Christian-heritage Societies. Manuscript, 2014.
Aissaoui, Rabah. "Algerian Migration to France from the early twentieth century to the Interwar
Period." 2008. accessed October 12, 2015,
Aissaoui, Rabah. "Exile and the politics of return and liberation: Algerian colonial workers and
anti-colonialism in France during the interwar period." French History 25, no. 2 (2011): 214-231.
Aldrich, Robert. Greater France: A History of French Overseas Expansion. Palgrave Macmillan,
Beaman, Jean. "Identity, marginalization, and Parisian banlieues." Research in Urban Sociology
Book Series 10 (2010): 153-176.
Bennoune, Mahfoud. The Making of Contemporary Algeria, 1830-1987. Vol. 19. Cambridge
University Press, 2002.
Body-Gendrot, Sophie. “Police marginality, racial logics and discrimination in the banlieues of
France.” Ethnic and Racial Studies 33, no. 4 (2010), 656-674.
Brett, Michael. “Legislating for Inequality in Algeria: The Senatus-Consulte of 14 July
1865.” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London 51, no. 3
(January 1, 1988): 440–61.
Byrnes, Melissa K. "Liberating the Land or Absorbing a Community: Managing North African
Migration and the Bidonvilles in Paris's Banlieues." French Politics, Culture & Society 31, no. 3
Choi, Sung. "The Muslim Veteran in Postcolonial France: The Politics of the Integration of
Harkis After 1962." French Politics, Culture & Society 29, no. 1 (2011): 24-45.
Council of Large Public Housing Authorities. “Assessing the Economic Benefits of Public
Housing: Final Report.” (2007): 1-35.
Cupers, Kenny. “The Social Project: The complex legacy of public housing in postwar France.”
Places Journal. 2014.
de Laforcade, Geoffroy. "‘Foreigners’, Nationalism and the ‘Colonial Fracture’ Stigmatized
Subjects of Historical Memory in France." International journal of comparative sociology 47, no.
3-4 (2006): 217-233.
Forward, Jean S. Endangered peoples of Europe: struggles to survive and thrive. Greenwood
Publishing Group, 2001.
Frantz, Fanon. The Wretched of the Earth. Grove Press, 1963.
Halligan, Liam. "The Heat Rises in France's Banlieues." The Telegraph, November 23, 2014.
accessed October 20, 2015,
Hargreaves, Alec G. Multi-ethnic France: immigration, politics, culture and society. Routledge,
Heisler, Barbara S. “Sending Countries and the Politics of Emigration and Destination.” The
International Migration Review, 19, no. 3 (1985): 469-484.
House, Jim. "The colonial and post-‐colonial dimensions of Algerian migration to France."
History in focus 11. 2008.
Hunt, Jennifer. "The impact of the 1962 repatriates from Algeria on the French labor
market." Industrial & Labor Relations Review 45, no. 3 (1992): 556-572.
Hussey, Andrew. “The French Intifada: how the Arab banlieues are fighting the French state.”
The Guardian. 2014.
Kinsey, David N. "The French ZUP Technique of Urban Development." Journal of the American
Institute of Planners 35, no. 6 (1969): 369-375.
Lawrence, Adria. Imperial rule and the politics of nationalism: anti-colonial protest in the
French empire. Cambridge University Press, 2013.
Lewis, Mary Dewhurst. The boundaries of the republic: migrant rights and the limits of
universalism in France, 1918-1940. Stanford University Press, 2007.
Loyal, Steven. "The French in Algeria, Algerians in France: Bourdieu, colonialism, and
migration." The Sociological Review 57, no. 3 (2009): 406-427.
Lyons, Amelia. Civilizing Mission in the Metropole: Algerian Families and the French Welfare
State during Decolonization. Stanford University Press, 2013.
Maussen, Marcel Johannes Marie. Constructing mosques: The governance of Islam in France
and the Netherlands. (2009): 107-120.
McCormack, Jo. “Memory and Exile: Contemporary France and the Algerian War (1954-1962).”
Critical Studies, (2008): p. 117-138.
McCormack, Jo. “Social Memories in (Post)colonial France: Remembering the Franco-Algerian
War.” Journal of Social History 44, no. 2 (2011): 1129-1138.
Merrouche, Ouarda. The Long Term Impact of French Settlement on Education in Algeria. No.
2007: 2. Working Paper, Department of Economics, Uppsala University, 2007.
Michel, Andrée. Les travailleurs algériens en France. Paris Centre National de la Recherce
Scientifique 1956, 1957.
Nasiali, Minayo. "Ordering the Disorderly Slum: ‘Standardizing’ Quality of Life in Marseille
Tenements and Bidonvilles." Journal of Urban History 38, no. 6 (2012): 1021-1035.
Naylor, Phillip C. Historical dictionary of Algeria. Rowman & Littlefield, 2015.
Packer, George. “The Other France: Are the suburbs of Paris incubators of terrorism?,” The New
Yorker. Last modified August 31, 2015, http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/08/31/the-
Savitch, H. V., Doddy Aditya Iskandar, and Charles Wharton Kaye-Essien. "Marseille: France’s
Great Port City Comes Back from the Brink."Transforming Distressed Global Communities:
Making Inclusive, Safe, Resilient, and Sustainable Cities (2015): 31-48.
Sayad, Abdelmalek. The Suffering of the Immigrant. Trans. David Macey. Cambridge, UK and
Malden, MA: Polity Press, 2004.
Silverstein, Paul. Algerian in France: Transpolitics, Race, and Nation. Indiana University Press,
Tars, Eric S., Julia Lum, and E. Kieran Paul. "Champagne of Housing Rights: France's
Enforceable Right to Housing and Lessons for US Advocates.” Northeastern University Law
Journal 4 , no. 2 (2012): 429-482.