The Silence Of 'Others' - Photographs from Marseille


France. Marseille. 2012. Abdel Benfrih [right] was trying to convince his uncle to let him drive the car but his uncle refused, as Abdel is a minor without a driving license. Abdel and his family lives in a cité – social housing project – in the northern 13th district of Marseille; an area notorious for its links to crime and violence.

The Northern districts of Marseille were once populated with slums and shantytowns, which were later replaced by the social housing buildings that one can see today. More than half of the social housing buildings are located in three districts or arrondisements – 13th, 14th, & 15th – of the Quartiers Nord. The percentage of the Maghrebi population that lives in social housing in Marseille is much higher as compared to any other group of immigrants. They are more likely to live in old overcrowded apartments, are often tenants and have very limited access to the private housing market. Due to a very high demand for quality housing in Marseille, there has been an incredible increase in real estate prices. Quality housing is no longer available for the lower income population, like the Maghrebis. Almost all of the South and the East of Marseille is out of the reach of Maghrebis.

Another interesting feature to be observed is the presence of Muslims in social housing buildings where there is a high concentration of immigrants of African, Maghrebi or Turkish origins. Socio-residential heterogeneity can’t be observed in these buildings and they are often more socially and religiously homogenous. One can believe that probably these groups would like to keep to themselves and stay away from non-Muslims. But the truth is that market forces, discrimination, lack of opportunities and poverty has ensured that these immigrants are kept at a distance. Very little is being done to improve the spatial layout of citizens and the divide between Muslims and non-Muslims is getting wider and stronger day by day.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________




France. Marseille. 2013. Young men, who work for drug dealers, photographed while being interviewed on the 7th floor of a social housing building. The man on the left did the talking while the one in the center, who identified himself as Laglu, kept a watch on all movements nearby. Laglu, aged 22, was arrested a couple of weeks ago and is now in prison after being convicted for a number of illegal activities.

The right side of the wall was once a door to a flat, which was later sealed by the police after an entire family was murdered there by a rival drug gang. In memory of the slain family, young men from the building chiseled their own names and heart shapes on the cement. The word at the bottom of the wall reads ‘Bisous’ – ‘Kisses’ in French.

Drugs for long have been central to the network of crime and violence in Marseille. Marseille was once a major center for drugs processing, mainly heroin. In early 70s, more than 80% of heroin in the US was trafficked from Marseille. Today, Marseille still remains a major route for cocaine into Europe from South America through West Africa, and for cannabis through Spain from Morocco. Drug trafficking rivalry leads to a number of murders each year. In most of the cases, the victims are young men between the ages of 20-35. In 2012, there were 24 drug-related murders and more than 10,000 armed burglaries and robberies. This year the number of murders has already reached to 17.

Gun laws are extremely strict in France but there has been a phenomenal increase in the use of machine-guns by criminals. Police authorities claim the new generation of drug dealers has no fear for law and is not at all afraid to use automatic weapons. It shouldn’t come as a surprise for a city where a Kalashnikov is reportedly available for less than 500 Euros.

But how can such huge networks of crime, drugs and guns operate without the connivance of local law enforcement authorities? For years, apprehended drug dealers have been disclosing that police officers allow them to operate after taking a cut from their profits. Last year, almost half of Brigade Anti-Criminalite – Nord (BAC-Nord), an elite anti-crime unit founded to control crime in the Northern districts of Marseille, was suspended. A sting operation led to the disclosure that officers of BAC-Nord were extorting drugs and cash from Marseille’s underworld. Many of these policemen own luxury homes with swimming pools and expensive cars. The entire BAC-Nord unit has now been disbanded. A total of 30 officers were suspended, 15 indicted for theft, extortion and organized gang activities. Four of them are still imprisoned. But many citizens believe that BAC-Nord scandal, the biggest in French history, is just the tip of an iceberg and the menace of police corruption and collusion is far from over.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________




France. Marseille. 2013. Ambreen Beladi waits for her father [not seen here] as he talks to me about the old social housing building behind their car. The building is to be demolished and a new one would be constructed in its place soon. Most of the social housing projects are decades old, in dilapidated conditions, poorly maintained and overpopulated.
According to a report, there are around 60,000 dilapidated buildings in Marseille, which is around 17% of the total housing in the city. Buildings are considered dilapidated when, among other things, they do not have fully functional baths or showers and toilets. On a very rough estimate, there are around 22,000 pending applications for social housing and only 1000 new units are being constructed on a yearly basis. The rest of the applicants usually have to depend on many such old dilapidated buildings until they are able to find a better apartment. There is a law that encourages municipalities to achieve a certain target number of social housing units. Marseille hasn’t yet achieved its target of 20% of social housing for each neighborhood.

New housing complexes being built in the suburbs are fast becoming attractive to families with better or higher incomes. The middle and upper class sections of Marseille’s society can afford to rent or purchase these new apartments. On the other hand, most of the Maghrebis have poor credit records and very low incomes. And very few housing units are being built for this disenfranchised section of the society, even though the demand for such housing is significantly high. In such a scenario, the only housing available or affordable to them is the cheaper old dilapidated one, like the building seen here. This situation has led to a fierce competition for social housing and people have to wait for years before they are offered a place to live.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________




France. Marseille. 2013. Fadila Benchouia kisses her son goodnight after reading a bedtime story to him. Fadila separated from her husband two years ago after he started drinking heavily and turned abusive. As a single parent, Fadila receives a number of social security benefits, but she still works at two different jobs in order to earn enough for her son’s education and future. Like a lot of single mothers that I met in Marseille, Fadila too expressed her fear and concerns about drugs, crime and violence in Marseille. Single-parent families make up more than 10% of all families in Marseille; three times more than anywhere else in France. In June this year, hundreds of citizens, many of them mothers, marched on the streets and demanded an end to the criminal violence that has brutally ended the lives of several young sons of Marseille.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________




France. Marseille. 2013. Drug peddling takes place quite openly in the cités. Sometimes, young dealers can be seen standing in front of the buildings. But most of the times, they use the stairways and portals of the social housing buildings to sell drugs. It protects them from being detected by the police and helps them to quickly hide their drugs in case of a raid.

The drug distribution network is very well organized and has very specific roles for each member of the network. Young men like these often act as lookouts, the chouffes, or as dealers, the charbonneurs, selling mostly marijuana and hashish. Most of the networks employ young men from poor families without a father or an elder brother, which helps them to control the lives and families of the young men. If the families resist, they are often threatened or beaten. But mostly, they accept because money earned by their young children often helps them to cope with poverty. The dealers normally follow an unwritten code of not bothering or harassing the residents of the building where they operate. But this is not always the case and residents and visitors often complain about the difficulties they face while entering or exiting the buildings. I had been instructed, by the families that I used to visit, to conceal my camera and to never reveal that I am a photojournalist. The families were definitely concerned about my safety but they also could not let the dealers know that they were sharing information, or giving interviews and photographs to me.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________




France. Marseille. 2013. A large number of damaged or burnt vehicles can be found in and around the cités in Marseille. These are vehicles which had been stolen mainly to retrieve and sell valuable parts, and also for joyriding. Most of the stolen vehicles are often found abandoned at random locations or employed further for committing other crimes. They are also used for making false insurance claims or sold to unsuspecting customers.

There is another reason why one may find several burnt or damaged cars in France, especially near the poor housing projects. On New Year’s Eve each year, joyriders and vandals celebrate by setting fire to as many empty parked cars as possible. Gangs try to outdo each other by burning more vehicles. This tradition results in thousands of torched cars each year. On January 2nd, 2013, the French Interior Ministry reported that revelers had burned 1193 cars during this year’s celebrations.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________




France. Marseille. 2013. A young boy feels homesick and spends some time alone in the backyard of his hostel. He had just spoken over the phone with his parents who live in the Republic of Guinea. The boy arrived in Marseille as an illegal immigrant but is now being looked after and supported by a private social organization.

Marseille is known as the refugee capital of France. Thousands of new immigrants, refugees or asylum seekers, cross the Mediterranean Sea and arrive in Marseille each year. But in the absence of proper legal papers, many of them are detained and deported. Depending upon their condition and backgrounds, some of them, mainly minors, are allowed to stay in France. They remain in the legal custodies of social organizations that provide shelter, food and education to these young immigrants. The organizations work to ensure that these young men and women are fully prepared to deal with their new lives in France. After a few months, these immigrants are produced in courts where a decision is then taken whether they should be allowed to become naturalized French citizens or should they be sent back to their native countries.

It all appears to be a clean and transparent system but in reality it isn’t. Issues like corruption, inefficiency and mismanagement of funds are worsening the situation instead of facilitating a full-fledged integration of the newly arrived immigrants. Many social organizations, which are funded by the French government, pay money to buy papers for these immigrants illegally from the black market. Most of the men that I met in this hostel, could barely speak French, hardly interacted with fellow residents from other countries and were single-mindedly focused on securing their papers. I saw young men forming gangs based on ethnicity/nationality inside these hostels and violently fighting with each other over petty issues. But I do not think that these young immigrants are at fault here. Because it is the organization’s responsibility to do more to provide these young men and women with professional and personal skills that will help them to live a fuller life once they leave their hostels. These organizations should make extra efforts to help these immigrants interact with the larger French society, discourage ghettoization and nurture a feeling of belongingness, and not just stuff them with food and money. But in a desperate bid to achieve project targets or sustain their funding sources, these organizations have adopted the same malpractices that the French society expects them to defeat.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________




France. Marseille. 2013. Kamel Berrouichat dozes off while working as a nighttime caretaker at a hostel for young illegal immigrants. Kamel used to be a policeman but after five years he left his job. He says that the inherent racism and bias against Arabs in the police system was getting intolerable for him.

From all the stories that Kamel narrated, I think his own personal experience is something that needs to be shared here. Once, while off-duty, he was driving on a street when he saw two men fighting after a car accident. He tried to intervene and break up the fight. The police arrived at the scene soon and without asking any questions, they arrested Kamel. The other two men were non-Arabs and were allowed to leave. But the police took Kamel to the station, hurled racist abuses at him and detained him illegally without any charges. He did not disclose that he too was a policeman because he wanted to see how far they could go. A lady officer constantly kept telling him, “It is because of you Arabs that we have so many problems here”. After a few hours another officer walked in the police station. He was Kamel’s friend and when he got to know what had happened, he asked the others to release Kamel immediately. When they got to know that Kamel too was a policeman, the other officers were embarrassed and they requested Kamel not to file a complaint against them.

Kamel said that police department has been trying to recruit officers of Maghrebi or African origin in order to improve policing and relationship with the immigrant communities. But most of these officers are never promoted to senior positions and not allowed to work on sensitive cases. There are ethnic divisions in the police force and there aren’t many Arab or black officers in key senior positions in Marseille.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________




France. Marseille. 2013. Members of the French Comorian community were about to gather for a meeting in a café and one of the organizers here makes some quick last minute changes to the discussion points.

There are more than 90,000 Comorians in Marseille and a commonly heard comment about the community is that ‘there are more Comorians in Marseille than in Comoros’. A majority of the community has migrated from Mayotte, a French overseas department in the Comoros Archipelago. Around 97% of Mayotte’s population is Muslim. The Comorians are viewed as the ‘gentler’ and ‘peaceful’ Muslims in France. Probably, because they rarely participate in mass demonstrations or protests. But as an elderly gentleman remarked, “This is no compliment. It is actually an encouragement to remain silent and be satisfied with whatever little we get”. In Marseille, the Comorian community is amongst the poorest and excluded. The Comorians are gradually realizing the need to voice their concerns and are now trying to organize themselves socially and politically.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________




France. Marseille. 2013. Two friends watch a suspenseful animated movie after a dinner of milk and chocolates.

 _____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________




France. Marseille. 2013. Sofiyan Benchouia [right] and his mother wait for our language translator at his apartment in a cité in the 13th district of Marseille. Sofiyan is a very good student and is preparing for his engineering entrance exams. His parents came from Oran, Algeria, to France in 1966 after the Algerian War. In her interview, Sofiyan’s mother said that she likes to live in Marseille and does not believe that there is racism or discrimination of any kind against Arabs in France. But Sofiyan holds a very different opinion. He said, “My mother never had to go out for work. Her social life is limited to the Algerian community in our neighborhood. How can she know what racism or discrimination is? Maybe you should ask my father who had to work for low paying jobs even after being highly qualified. Or wait till you hear what I have faced in schools and on the streets”.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________




France. Marseille. 2013. Ilhem Hachemi [right], 30, travels with her mother to downtown Marseille from La Rose, the northernmost metro station.

It is true that unlike Paris, where the banlieues are situated away from the city centre, the housing projects in Marseille aren’t really separated from the rest of the city. Marseille is almost twice the size of Paris in land area. When France began the large-scale construction of social housing projects in the 60s and 70s, Marseille had a lot of available land space. So it was possible to build and distribute these housing projects evenly throughout Marseille. But this does not mean that low-income marginalized families can choose to stay near the city centre or wherever else they want to. The rents or prices of the housing units near the city centre are beyond the reach of most of the Maghrebis and that is why they are concentrated in the more distant poor crime-infested northern districts of Marseille. And a majority of this population is detached from the rest of the city primarily because of the public transport system.

I have had a few discussions where people have tried to convince me that public transportation here isn’t poor, and that the northern districts are very well connected to the rest of Marseille. But after living for some months in the northern districts, without any personal means of transportation, I just cannot agree with their arguments. There isn’t a Metro station nearby; walk for 8-10 minutes to a bus stop, a bus arrives after a gap of 20 minutes, which takes another 25 minutes to drop you at the nearest Metro station. Spend another 30 minutes in the Metro before you can arrive at the city centre.  Is this what it means to be ‘well connected’?

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________




France. Marseille. 2013. Leslie Diebel fell in love with Nil Belaadi, a French Algerian man, while studying at the university. But her parents were against her decision to marry an Arab. In spite of all her persuasion, Leslie’s parents were not convinced. Leslie still went ahead, married her boyfriend without their consent and converted to Islam. Shocked and disappointed, her parents cut off all ties with Leslie and did not speak with her for almost two years. But after the birth of Leslie’s first child, a daughter, her parents gave in to their emotions, reconciled and accepted Nil as their son-in-law.

Leslie’s father was born and raised in Algeria and like other settlers, had to return to France after the independence of Algeria in 1962. Amidst the chaos of Algerian independence, around 1.6 million French colonists, known as pied noirs or black-feet, returned to France filled with a lot of bitterness. They have for long harbored anger against the decolonization of Algeria and the decision of allowing Algerians to settle in France. Mainly, because they themselves had been uprooted and forced to leave Algeria, a country that they had known as their home. They view their coming to France as a painful displacement and their relations with the ‘native’ French citizens weren’t pleasant initially. Today, they are fully integrated with the French society but their anti-North African sentiment still persists, which is often exploited by political parties like Front National and politicians like Jean-Marie Le Pen.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________




France. Marseille. 2013. Nassurdine Haidari [left], 35, spends some time with his family during a lunch break from his office, which is just across the street from where he lives. Haidari, a member of the Socialist Party, is a deputy mayor for youth and sport for the 1st and 7th arrondissements of Marseille. French-born Haidari’s parents came from Comoros Islands off Africa’s east coast and he grew up in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Marseille. Haidari is an active campaigner of equal rights and social inclusion. Last year, Haidari was attacked and beaten by 20 men wearing masks and helmets as he was campaigning with community members during the French presidential election. But Haidari remains undeterred and hasn’t stopped working against issues of discrimination and rising inequality. As Haidari stated during his interview, “We have two fights to win. Against racism and Islamophobia. Because we are black and we are Muslims”.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________




France. Marseille. 2013. Saliha Sadelli [right], a private nurse, talks to her patient during a home visit.

During our discussion, I asked if the practice of not serving halal meals in public hospitals was really an issue for the Muslim community in Marseille. Saliha said, “Yes it is, and patients often complain about it”. Halal means permitted in Arabic. Under Islamic dietary laws, meat/poultry has to be slaughtered in the name of Allah, and in a certain manner to be considered halal. Certain foods, like pork and alcohol, cannot be consumed and are not halal. French laws do not specifically talk about this issue but public hospitals, claiming to be followers of laïcité, do not serve meals based on religious restrictions. But this isn’t the point of conflict between the Muslim patients and the authorities. The real problem is the fact that hospitals deny halal meals to Muslims but have a proper system of serving Kosher meals to Jewish patients. The Israelite Consistory of Marseille has a formal partnership with all public, private and military hospitals to distribute daily meals to Jewish patients who request Kosher meals. But hospitals are unwilling to consider any such proposals for the provision of halal meals. The Muslim community considers this as racism and a discriminatory treatment of Muslims by the local health care system.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________




France. Marseille. 2013. Children of a Comorian family listen to their mother [not in the picture] as she talks about her experience of living in Marseille. The family, living in an old social housing apartment, has eleven children; the eldest child is 16-years old and the youngest one is 15-months old.

France, following the principle of solidarity, spends around 33% of its GDP on social welfare benefits, which is more than any other OECD [Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development] country. But with the economic mess that Europe is in right now, and with a gradual reduction in the resources that finance social protection, President Francois Hollande has been persuading French citizens to accept drastic changes to their social protection system. In order to revive the French economy, huge reductions in pension and welfare benefits have been proposed. Such proposals have been welcomed by those who have for long been against unemployment and family payouts, especially to immigrants. Benefit payments are directly proportional to the number of children in the family. And during my interviews, many respondents, Arabs and non-Arabs, blamed the welfare benefits system as an encouragement for immigrants to have large families. But there were also many respondents who criticized and rejected such generalizations by stating that even if such tendencies exist amongst a tiny percentage of immigrants, then adequate employment opportunities, better education and social inclusion can easily correct them.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________




France. Marseille. 2013. A young man tries to impress with his soccer skills on a street in Le Panier district. Le Panier, the oldest part of Marseille, is where the Greeks first settled and founded the city of Massalia some 2600 years ago. Since then, Le Panier has witnessed several waves of immigrations. Initially, the Italians and Corsicans settled here, then came the Maghrebis, and more recently the Vietnamese and the Comorians. There was also a time when Le Panier was viewed as a hurdle in the modernization of Marseille. Authorities saw it as a hill crowded with immigrants and dilapidated houses. But Le Panier developed at a pace and mood of its own, and still carries imprints of the successive cultures that gave its narrow streets their Provençal color and allure.

 _____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________



France. Marseille. 2013. Friends of a young dress designer [not in the picture] wait for their car after finishing a photo shoot for the designer’s catalogue. The girls are wearing traditional hand-made Algerian wedding dresses. Such dresses are elaborately designed to represent the Algerian custom of treating the bride as a princess in her new kingdom.

The older generation of Muslims in Marseille maintains very strong social and cultural ties with their countries of origin. They still have families living there and Marseillais keep in regular touch with their relatives abroad by every possible means. Hundreds of Marseillais travel to their country of origin, especially to Northwest Africa, during their annual summer vacations. These bonds have ensured the preservation of Maghrebi beliefs, customs and practices, which are now a prominent feature of the French cultural and social mosaic.

 _____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________




France. Marseille. 2013. Wafaa Allal, 33, works as a part-time Arabic teacher conducting classes at the basement of an Islamic library. She is a single mother and has a 7-year old daughter. Wafaa has a Master’s degree in Translation [Arabic, Spanish & English] and has been trying to get a job for the past 5 years. She received quite a few job offers from many private firms. But they all wanted her to work without her hijab, which she wasn’t ready for. Fed up with the situation, she no longer sends out job applications and now teaches at a low-paying Islamic library for just two days a week.

In France, laïcité bans the full-face covering burqa or niqab in all public places. It also prevents the wearing of religious signs by students at public primary and secondary schools inside school grounds. State employees are also barred from wearing religious symbols like hijabs, skullcaps (Jewish/Muslim) or crosses in public welfare offices or other government facilities. But it does recognize and protect the right to freely wear faith symbols, clothing or head coverings, at all other places. So if you are not a public servant or a student inside a school, except for the burqa or niqab, you are free to wear whatever you want to. Therefore, the ban on Islamic signs, like the hijab, at workplaces is racist and illegal. Yet, it is highly prevalent.

It is almost impossible for me to share here all the stories that I heard about the misuse of laïcité and the discrimination that follows if one insists on wearing or displaying Islamic symbols like the hijab. But I can tell you that laïcité sounds good only in principle. In practice, it ensures the institutional invisibility of minorities in France and weakens all efforts to promote diversity and prevent prejudice. Laïcité is another example where an ill-conceived and misused legal decree harasses, abuses and divides instead of serving, protecting and uniting.

 _____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________




France. Marseille. 2013. Omar Farhoune [right], 17, travels to Frioul Islands, a tourist destination located approximately 4 km from Marseille. Omar arrived in Marseille in early 2013 from Barcelona, Spain, with his father. Due to the economic crisis, Omar’s father was laid-off from work and after being unable to pay their mortgage, they lost their home too. Seeking work and shelter, both of them came to France where they were supported by a social organization that managed to find a job for Omar’s father. They have now moved into a rented apartment.

Immigrants come to Marseille seeking a new life, to find a job and earn money for families back home, to avail medical care or to find protection. Most of the immigrants to Marseille still arrive from the Maghreb and Black Africa. But the ongoing financial crisis has forced many unemployed men and women from other countries, like Spain, to France. France has already seen several waves of Spanish immigration, from the Spanish civil war in late 30s to the arrival of Iberian immigrants in large numbers during the 60s and 70s. This time it is European debt crisis, and the collapse of Spanish building and banking markets, that has led to an unemployment rate of 30% in Spain and prompted large-scale emigration. But when France, Euro zone’s second-largest economy, itself is struggling with a 14-year high unemployment rate of 10.8 %, chances of securing jobs are quite dim for the newly arrived African or European immigrants.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________




France. Marseille. 2013. Mehdy Bibi [left] meets his girlfriend at Notre-Dame de la Garde. They have known each other for five years and want to get married. But their families, for reasons undisclosed, have been opposing their marriage and have asked both of them to end their relationship.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________



France. Marseille. 2013. Samra, 19, listens to her 70-year old father, Mohammed Gacem, as he tells her what all he wants to do when he feels better and is able to walk on his own again. Due to old age, Mohammed has lost much strength and falls sick quite often. He needs constant care but the family couldn’t afford to keep him in a hospital or pay for a home caregiver. Mohammed’s three sons from his first marriage are all married and live separately. So Samra, a daughter from his second marriage, decided to take a year off from studies and stay at home to look after her old father. A private nurse visits them twice a week. But Samra monitors her father’s daily medication, helps him with light exercises and provides constant companionship. 

Generally speaking, health care system in France is quite developed and available to all. For example, a visit to the general medical practitioner costs around €23. The state reimburses 70% of this cost and in the event of serious illnesses, like cancer, 100% of the cost is reimbursed. But I’ll quote here an important finding from an Open Society Foundations report – “In Marseille, the most prevalent illness may well be poverty. And from poverty there follow many pathological conditions that local health practitioners encounter in work… The occurrence of illness linked to extreme poverty has not diminished in Marseille. For instance, tuberculosis, which was believed to have been eradicated, is now present. There are estimated to be 18 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, and even more in some arrondissements…Tuberculosis remains a condition linked to poverty and all that it entails: overcrowded apartments, inadequate housing, lack of hygiene and difficulties accessing health care. Analysing the breakdown by arrondissement of confirmed tuberculosis shows that it is in the city’s lower –class neighbourhoods that the rate of tuberculosis is the highest. These neighbourhoods are also the ones where migrant residents originating from the Maghreb, Africa and Comoros are concentrated…”

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________




France. Marseille. 2013. A nervous tourist on a ferryboat from Frioul to Château d’If, about a mile away from the shore in the Bay of Marseille.

Located on the southeast coast of France, Marseille is an important and one of the busiest ports in Europe. The Phoenicians, a maritime trading civilization, founded Marseille some 2600 years ago. Since then, the sea has always played an important role in the life of Marseille. For centuries, the sea has brought to the shores of Marseille innumerable explorers, slaves, laborers, merchants, sailors, refugees, immigrants, and holidaymakers too. The French empire utilized the port city to establish direct links to North African colonies like Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia. Hundreds of ships and boats leave Marseille everyday to bring back fresh seafood from the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, and connect France to the Maghreb, Corsica, Sardinia, Spain and Italy.


_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________




France. Marseille. 2013. Sofia [left] and Fatima had to wait for more than an hour before Sofia’s brother could finish work and come to pick them up from a shopping mall. The northern districts of Marseille, where a majority of the city’s Muslim population resides, are poorly connected by public transportation.

From whichever part of the world you might be, it shouldn’t be difficult for you to understand that factors like urban planning and access to public services play a very important role in deciding how different communities in a city interact and relate to each other. A steep economic disparity, coupled with a geographical separation, always fuels resentment and ‘otherness’. We have observed such a phenomenon in almost every major city around the world. If a minority community is made to physically, culturally and politically leave mainstream territories, if it is systematically pushed away to poorer excluded areas, and if it does not get equal opportunities to bridge ever-growing social and economic gaps, then it is impossible to achieve objectives of ‘integration’ or ‘assimilation’. I have seen it in Asia, I have seen it in America and I am now seeing it in Europe. 

And that is why, even when I couldn’t find any tangible evidence in support of their views, I still somehow agree with these young Marseillais when they claim that the government will intentionally not extend the Metro line to the distant northern districts. Because it wants to keep the poor uncivilized crime-prone beurs away from the richer sophisticated righteous French.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________




France. Marseille. 2013. Squatting in a social housing apartment, young men watch a soccer match on TV. 

About a third of Marseille’s population lives below the poverty line, earning less than 850 Euros ($1150) per month. In the poor suburbs of Marseille, inhabited mainly by North African Muslims, youth unemployment is as high as 50 percent. Such young men are easy recruits for the drug dealers and violent gangs. The dealers/gangs provide these unemployed men with alcohol, drugs, television and money. Young men, who act as lookouts, guard the entry and exit points of a cité and warn drug dealers about the police, are called chouffes.  They earn up to 100 Euros ($135) a day. Then there are the charbonneurs who sell the drugs to the customers. Those who take care of the stock, usually kept in apartments like this one, are called the ravitailleurs. They are paid quite handsomely. But the ones who make the most of the money are the nourrices who allow drugs and money to be stored in their homes. These nourrices are usually poverty-stricken single women who have no direct contact with any of the other members or drug sellers. They can earn from 5,000 to 10,000 Euros ($13,480) per month. But the earning for each of these categories varies and depends on the neighborhoods, risks and business. 

I heard a very interesting story while interacting with these young men. It was about the riots of 2005 that engulfed Paris and many other cities for 20 nights, leaving 9000 burnt vehicles and 3000 people in jail. Somehow, not even a single incident took place in Marseille. This calm was later hailed as a sign of communal understanding and harmony by the media and politicians. But these men, and later some other drug dealers, told me that Marseille remained calm because the top most drug bosses had strictly ordered young men not to indulge in rioting. A single day of rioting would have led to a loss of millions of Euros and the highly profitable drug business in Marseille could not afford such losses. So everyone was ordered to carry on with their daily business and to ignore whatever was happening in Paris or other cities. This information is in complete contradiction to so many of the stories that attempt to portray the calm of Marseille during 2005 as an example of unity in diversity, integration of immigrants or peaceful co-existence of cultures and religions.

 _____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________




France. Marseille. 2013. Moonrise, as seen from Les Eglantiers, one of the many social housing buildings in the northern 13th arrondissement of Marseille. These buildings were constructed in late 60s and early 70s to accommodate immigrant communities, especially Maghrebis, in France. While they did succeed, to an extent, in providing low-income families with a shelter, this system has also led to the creation of several ghettos. In these ghettos, especially in the North, marginalized population suffers from neglect, massive unemployment, drugs and crime, away from the rich gentrified Southern Marseille. 

Marseille includes 16 municipal districts (arrondissement), divided into 111 neighborhoods. The 13th, 14th, 15th and 16th districts are called the Quartiers Nord (North Quarters). More than half of the social housing buildings in Marseille are located in Quartiers Nord. The city center is located in the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 7th districts. These are the districts where a majority of the retired migrant workers, the chibanis, from the Maghreb reside. They are old, poor and have to stay in France in order to receive their pensions. The normally share apartments to reduce housing expenditure and live in the oldest housing buildings in the city centre. The most deprived and rundown neighborhoods are located in Quartiers Nord and the city center. The least disadvantaged neighborhoods are located in the South, like the 11th district.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________



030Marseille

France. Marseille. 2013. Yusra, Sofia and Camelia were my guides during my initial days in Marseille. They helped me to know more about their city, and also convinced some of their friends to participate in my project. This photograph was taken one evening on small hill outside Marseille where the girls rested for a while before driving me back to my apartment.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________




France. Marseille. 2013. Residents from the 15th arrondissement of Marseille wait for an early morning bus near lycée Saint-Exupéry. The school [white building on the left] founded in 1959, is still the only public high school in the northern quartiers of Marseille that prepares students aged 15 and older for the baccalauréat and other technical qualifications.

Read more about lycée Saint-Exupéry and its students in this article:
http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/jul/23/marseille-ghetto-lycee-saint-exupery


_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________




France. Marseille. 2013. A calanque on Port Frioul, near the city of Marseille. Formed in karstic regions, calanques are steep-sided valleys near the sea and are very popular amongst tourists in Southern France.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________




France. Marseille. 2013. A teenager on the balcony of his housing unit in cité Les Rosiers of 14th arrondissement. 

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________




France. Marseille. 2013. Social housing buildings, as seen from a flyover, in cité Frais Vallon of 13th arrondissement.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________











Copyright © 2008-14 by Bharat Choudhary, all rights reserved. All images/text/articles contained on this site are subject to UK Copyright Laws and remain the property of the photographer/author at all times. No image may be downloaded or used without express permission from the photographer/author for any purpose whatsoever. Any person involved in any unauthorized act in relation to any content on this site may be liable to criminal prosecution.