Muslims in Marseille Feel Abandoned by Their City

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MARSEILLE—Muslims are not included in public policies and debates around education, employment, and housing in Marseille making it difficult to address vast inequities, said the Open Society Foundations in a new report released today.

“Marseille is a city divided,” said Nazia Hussain, director of the Open Society Foundations At Home in Europe Project. “The city has adopted a number of innovative strategies that aim to promote diversity, but racial and ethnic divisions remain an entrenched problem affecting almost every aspect of life for Muslims in Marseille.”

Muslims in Marseille offers a snapshot of life in France’s second largest city, specifically in the neighborhood of the 3rd arrondissement. While precise data is not available, research suggests that somewhere between 30 and 40 percent of Marseille’s population is Muslim, with particular concentrations in the 3rd arrondissement. The issue of national identity and belonging is of increasing importance not only in Marseille, but also the country as whole over the last two decades.  

“Marseille is often considered as one of the most cosmopolitan cities in Europe. However it still struggles to recognize the diverse range of identities of its Muslim citizens,” said Hussain. “Muslims do not want to be defined by their faith alone but to be treated and seen as equal French citizens. Nevertheless they are too often seen only through the lens of their religious identity and as a result excluded from policies and debates.”

Key Findings

  • Among Muslims, 55 percent said they felt they belonged to Marseille, while nearly 70 percent of non-Muslims indicated a sense of belonging to their city.
  • Muslims and non-Muslims generally agreed that Arabs (65 percent), blacks (55 percent), and Muslims (38 percent) were the victims of racial prejudice.  
  • This report suggests that the educational environment in Marseille’s north district schools stands in stark contrast with that of the city’s south districts, and contributes to the underachievement generally recorded in the city’s heavily Muslim north district schools.
  • Efforts to address racial and religious discrimination in the labor market are limited. Most employment initiatives focus on developing skills rather than preventing employers from discriminating on the grounds of ethnicity or race.
  • Residential segregation is a key feature of Marseille. The city is split between urban renewal areas in the North, where there is a high Muslim and socio-economically deprived population, and well-to-do southern districts with a much lower Muslim and migrant population.
  • French law prohibits non-European foreign residents from voting in national elections, which affects both older immigrants and newcomers who do not hold French nationality—excluding a third of potential Muslim voters in Marseille.

Muslims in Marseille is the culmination of more than three years of research. This is primarily a qualitative study offering a glimpse into the lives of people in Marseille.

This study is part of a series of monitoring reports entitled Muslims in EU Cities. It focuses on 11 cities in the European Union with significant Muslim populations: Amsterdam, Antwerp, Berlin, Copenhagen, Hamburg, Leicester, Marseille, Paris, Rotterdam, Stockholm, and the London Borough of Waltham Forest.

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The Open Society Foundations work to build vibrant and tolerant democracies whose governments are accountable to their citizens. Working with local communities in more than 70 countries, the Open Society Foundations support justice and human rights, freedom of expression, and access to public health and education.