Chinese immigrants to France attacked in Paris

By David Chazan
BBC News, Paris

  • Published
Cuts and bruises suffered by Chinese immigrants in Paris, France
Image caption,
Muggings are on the rise in districts of Paris that were models of multi-racial harmony until now

Businessman Wei Ming Shi was out walking with his wife when three muggers tried to snatch her bag.

"I fought them off but they hit me in the face and broke my nose," he said. "My vision was blurred for a week afterwards.

"These kind of attacks happen all the time, especially to Asians," said Mr Shi, who runs a driving school in the Belleville neighbourhood of Paris and has been mugged twice.

"My wife has had her mobile phone stolen at least five times," he said. "Every day people are being attacked and beaten up, so we're scared."

Ethnic Chinese residents of the French capital say they are being systematically attacked and robbed - and they are campaigning for more police protection.

This is in an area which, until recently, was held up as a model of multi-cultural harmony.

Reclusive community

Chinese community leaders say at least one robbery is being committed each day, often accompanied by gratuitous violence.

The numbers are confirmed by municipal officials and residents of the city's 20th arrondissement, or district, where many of the muggings take place.

The problem has become so bad that thousands of members of this normally shy community have been demonstrating on the streets, calling for tougher policing.

Local officials are not unsympathetic and the police say they have put extra officers on the streets.

But budgets are limited and residents say there still are not enough patrols, especially when they are most needed, at night, when the streets are deserted.

The mayor of the 20th district, Frederique Calandra, said she believed the attacks were not motivated by racism.

"Chinese people are attacked very often, not because of racist problems but because thugs have this opportunity of making money easily, because Chinese people are used to carrying cash - a lot of cash," said Ms Calandra.

The Chinese may have become targets because they are seen as relatively prosperous. Some of them run shops or restaurants, and it is hard for them to avoid carrying large amounts of cash after they close their businesses for the day.

Officials say the muggers are often of immigrant descent themselves, from other communities.

Man in coma

The Chinese association spokesman, Olivier Wang, says most of the attacks are violent, even when the targets are women.

"This is happening because of poverty, but it's unbearable," Mr Wang said.

He said a Chinese man who tried to film a recent mugging in Belleville on his mobile phone was attacked by the muggers and beaten up so badly that he is now in a coma.

Image caption,
Fed up with living in fear; ethnic Chinese demonstrate against recent wave of violent attacks

Mr Shi says people are terrified of being assaulted. "Our problem isn't so much that money or phones are being stolen, it's the violence we can't stand."

Many Parisians are shocked that the attacks are happening, not in the notoriously violent suburbs - the banlieue - but in the city itself.

Hamou Bouakkaz, a deputy mayor of Paris, says things have degenerated in the past two years following the economic downturn.

"Belleville was a very universal melting-pot, but the government has cut budgets allocated to integration, to security," Mr Bouakkaz said.

Mr Shi showed me photographs of people who had been mugged. One was of a woman, with bruised eyes, cuts on her face and a blood-soaked dress.

Another showed a man with cuts around his eyes.

He also produced a thick sheaf of copies of police reports of muggings. There were more than 80, covering a period of less than a year.

But many victims do not report attacks to the police, because they are illegal immigrants or cannot speak French well.

Those who do report muggings say the perpetrators are rarely brought to justice. The police declined to comment on this.

Community worker Dominique Dardel, a member of the neighbourhood council, says the long-term solution is not more police on the streets.

"Those who carry out these muggings usually grow up spending a lot of time on the streets," he said.

"Early on they realise that society isn't really offering them a future. The schools have to change their approach to these kids and convince them that they can have a future. That's the key."

But for now, victims like Mr Shi say the muggings are getting more violent, and they are fed up with living in fear.

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