A sharp increase in discrimination against France’s Muslim population, the largest in Europe, is seeing an exodus of highly skilled Muslim professionals, experts have said.
A new study by the University of Lille led by Professor Olivier Esteves revealed that highly educated Muslims are leaving France in large numbers to seek better job opportunities in the U.K., U.S., Canada and Dubai, which are more tolerant of their religious beliefs.
After interviewing 1,074 Muslims who left the country, Esteves argues that more than two-thirds reported that they moved to practice their religion more freely, while 70% said they left to avoid racism and discrimination.
Esteves suggested that Muslim professionals with in-demand skills are fed up with the way they are treated in the country.
“What’s ironic is that France pays for these people’s education, yet the country loses that highly skilled talent because of rampant institutional Islamophobia,” Esteves pointed out.
Natasa Jevtovic, 38-year-old finance project manager, moved to the U.K. from France in 2020 in the hope to be able to practice her religion more easily and being offered better job opportunities that match her skills.
Jevtovic’s decision to move paid off as since she moved to London, she has been promoted several times and is now earning double.
She has experienced racist remarks at a leading French bank where she was threatened by her manager to be fired for confronting and accusing her colleagues of discrimination.
“People would use racist terms and then I would ask them to stop and from that moment onward, nobody wanted to have lunches with me. Nobody wanted to talk to me for the next six months, I was just under boycotts, Jevtovic told Anadolu Agency (AA).
She is one of the many highly skilled Muslim professionals who do not feel welcome in France and for that reason are taking their skills where they feel are more appreciated.
Yasser Louati, a French political analyst and human rights advocate who is currently the head of the Committee for Justice & Liberties (CJL), told AA that the lack of religious freedom has become a reason why Muslim professionals are leaving France.
Louati argues that France loses highly skilled talent because of widespread “institutional Islamophobia,” and that the “sole loser here is France.”
Those who leave France are essentially trained and educated in France through public funding which means that there is no return on investments and instead the rival economies are profiting from those with a “rich background, both in terms of their education, and culturally,” he said
“So, one has to ask, how smart are our policymakers to let these people leave the country and work for economies in a globalized world where France is becoming a lame duck,” Louati added.
When you discriminate, you push people toward exile but “I don’t think leaving is the answer, it is also about confronting these policies,” he said.
According to him, Muslims living in France are discriminated against in the terms of education, getting a job, purchasing a house, or even sometimes getting access to health care.
The national policymakers would rather miss out on opportunities that allow people “to be their equals. It’s too bad for France. And honestly, I salute those countries and those companies that give a fair chance to these young men and women,” he said.
Since 2015 the French government has adopted various laws that Muslims say restrict their religious freedoms including a law that was passed in 2016 that prohibits the wearing of hijabs at work.
While In 2017, French President Emanuel Macron and his centrist government passed legislation that puts imams under harsh government scrutiny.
The government has also shut down mosques, Muslim-led groups, charities and non-profits, “without due process,” said Louati.
He further pointed out that such policies have created a culture of hostility that in turn are responsible for “the rise of Islamophobia in the country.”
The negative Muslim portrayal in French media was intensified during the 2022 presidential campaign by far-right candidates Marine Le Pen and Eric Zemmour, who dedicated much of their election campaign to the “threats of Islam,” added Louati.
A 2016 study revealed that a fifth of all instances of Islamophobia in France happens in the work environment.
According to a 2021 government report, job applicants with Muslim Arab-sounding names have a 32% less chance of being called in for an interview.
Islamophobia in France is “more prevalent because it is more visible,” however this does not mean that “other Western governments are better,” said Louati.
“If we take a look at what the U.K. is doing to their Muslims, or what Italy is doing or what, for example, the U.S. is doing, there is no big difference,” however even if their policies tend to be somehow radical, there are still more opportunities for Muslims there than in France, he pointed out.
Muslims are fully aware that they cannot completely escape prejudice in the West, however, the discrimination at the workplace or in general is “more visible and less sophisticated in France,” he added.
“Muslims are trying their very best … Muslims are here to stay like it or not, Muslims have been here before you and they will be here after you,” said Louati.