Desis in Europa

People marked as 'South Asians' in France

The Manorama Year Book (1994, 56) claims that there are 60,000 people of 'Indian origin' living in France, who came there mainly from the colonies in Pondicherry, Mahi, Karikal, French Somalia, Djibouti and West Africa at their independence. In the 1990s  there seem to be still 4,000 people marked as 'Indians' with 'French' nationality living in Pondicherry, sending their children to 'French' schools and thinking about improving their professional perspectives by migrating to France. Holding the 'French' nationality these 'South Asians' do not appear in the statistics on Indian citizens in France. The latter thus – and because of further naturalisations - decidedly under-estimate the number of people marked as  'Indian' in France. As it is not probable that there will be nearly as many naturalised 'Sri Lankans' or 'Pakistani' the 'Indians' seem to form the largest 'South Asian' group in France, even though in the 1990s predominately 'Sri Lankan Tamils' entered the country .

In the second world war the 'Indian legion' within the German SS (a legion formed out of former prisoners of war) were stationed for some time in France (Hartog 1991, 104-118) and was involved in war crimes. 

Early in the 20th century 'South Asian' migration to France was formed by few individuals . After the influx from the French colonies the next large group entering France were the 'South Asians' fleeing from Uganda at the beginning of the 70s . They were joined at the end of that decade by 'Sri Lankans', who had gone for work to the Gulf, had ended in Iran, which they then had to leave after the revolution. On their way to Britain they got stuck in France and applied for asylum there. Later on they formed the bridge head for 'Tamil' refugees from the civil war. (Percot et al 1995, 2)

By the beginning of the 1980s there had formed also a small 'Pakistani' community. Rahmatoul-lah (1982) estimates that there were 3,800 people marked as 'Pakistanis' legally living in France and several thousand more, who were at that time benefiting from the French government liberally legalising formerly illegalised. The majority of the 'Pakistanis' were workers in the manufacturing industries or service trades, only few were professionals, businessmen or students. 'Pakistani' life concentrated mainly on Paris, were also the first associations of the community developed. Ten years later Krieger-Krynicki (1993) gives a very similar report of the community which is estimated to consist of 30,000 legal and illegalised residents. Supported by the early migrants more unqualified workers from Punjab and the North-West have entered. They live in their own world and stay in intensive contact with the family at home.

It seems that in fact the majority of 'South Asians' in France work in rather unqualified jobs. Vuddamalay (1989) describes the 'Indian' illegalised employment in the textile industry and the development of an 'Indian ethnic' territory in Paris. Percot et al (1995, 3) make similar observations for the 'Sri Lankan Tamils'. Living in Paris they work mainly in unqualified, niche jobs, for example in restaurants, which although being below their status enable them to earn money without any knowledge in French. Already in 1982 the first 'Tamil' shop was opened, now many 'Tamils' have 'Indian' restaurants, one can buy all the goods a 'Tamil' longs for, there are 'Tamil' newspapers and 'Tamil' travel agencies. With the exception of the restaurants these institutions are used purely by 'Tamils'. Baumann (1998, 116) mentiones temples being built in some towns, Percot and al (1995, 4) go into some detail about religious practice which increasingly finds it own forms, for example in all religion 'Tamil' pilgrimages to Lourds, Chartres, Lisieux or Mont-St-Michel. Mondiappanadin (1993) argues that the first 'Tamils' now belong to the established class, living in the suburbs, holding the French nationality and providing their children with a good education. This is supported by Percot and al (1995, 5-6) who, however stress that the life stays mainly within the 'Tamil' community. 'Tamil' boys might have 'white French' girl-friends, but there are hardly mixed marriages. In order to find suitable 'Tami'l spouses much trouble is taken into account as there are not enough 'Tamil' women in France, unmarried women can however not enter and the 'Tamil' refugees cannot go back to Sri Lanka to marry. So for some time marriages were performed in India. But as visa restrictions also here have tightened they have shifted to Singapur and Malaysia. It seems that there solely the civil marriage is performed in order to acquire right of entry to France and the rituals are then performed there. Others have only ritual marriages in France and are thus legally considered single.

As the 'Indians' from the French colonies are also 'Tamils' Mondiappanadin (1993) estimates that in total the French 'Tamil' diaspora consists of 80,000 persons .


Further Literature

For statistical material click here (pdf-file).

© Urmila Goel, / Europa or english / europe 2002/2012/2016