Each week, Mamadou Diagouraga involves the Muslim part of a cemetery close to Paris to face vigil on the grave of his father, one of many many French Muslims to have died from COVID-19, writes Caroline Pailliez.
Diagouraga seems up from his father’s plot on the freshly-dug graves alongside. “My father was the primary one on this row, and in a yr, it is crammed up,” he mentioned. “It is unbelievable.”
Whereas France is estimated to have the European Union’s largest Muslim inhabitants, it doesn’t understand how arduous that group has been hit: French legislation forbids the gathering of knowledge based mostly on ethnic or spiritual affiliations.
However proof collated by Reuters – together with statistical information that not directly captures the affect and testimony from group leaders – signifies the COVID dying price amongst French Muslims is way increased than within the total inhabitants.
In line with one research based mostly on official information, extra deaths in 2020 amongst French residents born in primarily Muslim North Africa have been twice as excessive as amongst folks born in France.
The explanation, group leaders and researchers say, is that Muslims are inclined to have a lower-than-average socio-economic standing.
They’re extra more likely to do jobs resembling bus drivers or cashiers that carry them into nearer contact with the general public and to dwell in cramped multi-generational households.
“They have been … the primary to pay a heavy worth,” mentioned M’Hammed Henniche, head of the union of Muslim associations in Seine-Saint-Denis, a area close to Paris with a big immigrant inhabitants.
The unequal affect of COVID-19 on ethnic minorities, usually for comparable causes, has been documented in different international locations, together with the USA.
However in France, the pandemic throws into sharp aid the inequalities that assist gas tensions between French Muslims and their neighbours – and which look set to turn into a battleground in subsequent yr’s presidential election.
President Emmanuel Macron’s major opponent, polls point out, can be far-right politician Marine Le Pen, who’s campaigning on problems with Islam, terrorism, immigration, and crime.
Requested to touch upon the affect of COVID-19 on France’s Muslims, a authorities consultant mentioned: “We do not have information that’s tied to folks’s faith.”
Whereas official information is silent on the affect of COVID-19 on Muslims, one place it turns into obvious is in France’s cemeteries.
Folks buried in response to Muslim spiritual rites are sometimes positioned in specially-designated sections of the cemetery, the place graves are aligned so the useless particular person faces Mecca, the holiest web site in Islam.
The cemetery at Valenton the place Diagouraga’s father, Boubou, was buried, is within the Val-de-Marne area, outdoors Paris.
In line with figures Reuters compiled from all 14 cemeteries in Val-de-Marne, in 2020 there have been 1,411 Muslim burials, up from 626 the earlier yr, earlier than the pandemic. That represents a 125% improve, in comparison with a 34% improve for burials of all confessions in that area.
Elevated mortality from COVID solely partially explains the rise in Muslim burials.
Pandemic border restrictions prevented many households from sending deceased family again to their nation of origin for burial. There is no such thing as a official information, however undertakers mentioned round three quarters of French Muslims have been buried overseas pre-COVID.
Undertakers, imams and non-government teams concerned in burying Muslims mentioned there weren’t sufficient plots to satisfy demand initially of the pandemic, forcing many households to name round desperately to search out someplace to bury their family.
On the morning of Could 17 this yr, Samad Akrach arrived at a mortuary in Paris to gather the physique of Abdulahi Cabi Abukar, a Somali who died in March 2020 from COVID-19, with no household who might be traced.
Akrach, president of the Tahara charity that offers Muslim burials to the destitute, carried out the ritual of washing the physique and making use of musk, lavender, rose petals and henna. Then, within the presence of 38 volunteers invited by Akrach’s group, the Somali was buried in response to Muslim ritual at Courneuve cemetery on the outskirts of Paris.
Akrach’s group performed 764 burials in 2020, up from 382 in 2019, he mentioned. Round half had died from COVID-19. “The Muslim group has been affected enormously on this interval,” he mentioned.
Statisticians additionally use information on foreign-born residents to construct an image of the affect of COVID on ethnic minorities. This reveals extra deaths amongst French residents born outdoors France have been up 17% in 2020, versus 8% for French-born residents.
Seine-Saint-Denis, the area of mainland France with the very best variety of residents not born in France, had a 21.8% rise in extra mortality from 2019 to 2020, official statistics present, greater than twice the rise for France as an entire.
Extra deaths amongst French residents born in majority Muslim North Africa have been 2.6 occasions increased, and amongst these from sub-Saharan Africa 4.5 occasions increased, than amongst French-born folks.
“We are able to deduce that… immigrants of the Muslim religion have been a lot more durable hit by the COVID epidemic,” mentioned Michel Guillot, analysis director on the state-funded French Institute for Demographic Research.
In Seine-Saint-Denis, the excessive mortality is very hanging as a result of in regular occasions, with its youthful than common inhabitants, it has a decrease dying price than France total.
However the area performs worse than common on socio-economic indicators. Twenty p.c of houses are over-crowded, versus 4.9% nationally. The typical hourly wage is 13.93 euros, almost 1.5 euros lower than the nationwide determine.
Henniche, head of the area’s union of Muslim associations, mentioned he first felt the affect of COVID-19 on his group when he started receiving a number of cellphone calls from households in search of assist burying their useless.
“It isn’t as a result of they’re Muslims,” he mentioned of the COVID dying price. “It is as a result of they belong to the least privileged social courses.”
White collar professionals might defend themselves by working from dwelling. “But when somebody is a refuse collector, or a cleansing girl, or a cashier, they can’t work at home. These folks need to exit, use public transport,” he mentioned.
“There’s a type of bitter style, of injustice. There may be this sense: ‘Why me?’ and ‘Why at all times us?'”