Forgotten men, Maghrebien elders in Paris

France's relationship with its immigrant population has in recent times been a source of widespread division, violence and mistrust. The uprisings that have taken place in recent years in the suburbs of the country's main cities a physical manifestation of a deep-rooted dissatisfaction within minority communities.
Chibani, Arabic for elder, has entered the French lexicon as a description for men who exist on the fringes of French society, whose quiet waiting goes unnoticed by the general population. They arrived from North Africa in their twenties as economic migrants. Invited by a prosperous France of the 1960's they came as low skilled labour to work for the most part in heavy industry and other labour intensive employment. Often leaving young families behind in Algeria, Tunisia or Morocco they were given residency cards and expected to stay for no more than ten years. On the whole conditions were extremely poor with most barely able to support themselves. Whilst the majority continued to send what money they could home they had entered a pattern of solitary existance that continues to this day.

Married or single, the chibanis don't escape the latent xenophobia that has often surrounded them. Mostly from rural areas and rarely having been to school, speaking little french, they have never understood the importance of written documents in France's bureaucracy-obsessed society. Their low wages mean they receive a  relatively  small pension and are often reliant on social assistance to pay for care. In a sense the chibanis belong nowhere, neglected by the Franch state, and emotionally removed by years of absence from their native homeland. Social institutions capable of taking care of these men exist only in France, the villages of their birth unable to provide the medical care needed for the effects of years in dangerous employment and sub-standard housing. The state also stands in their way with laws requiring French residency in order to receive the basic state pension. They cannot live in their birthplace and they don't belong in France. In this sense they should be regarded as central to a much needed debate about integration in France, their experiences a powerful historical testament to the destructive effect of policies that have recently been violently disputed.