OPINION: France Owes World Cup Team Members

France may be claiming the World Cup 2018 title as a country, but it was immigrants and refugees who won it.

France, just like the rest of Europe, has been dealing with an influx of immigrants and refugees from countries in Northern Africa as well as from the war-torn Middle East.

However, almost irregardless of the socio-political climate in any country at nearly any given time, we’re almost always willing to make exceptions for immigrants and refugees who can play sports.

The French 2018 World Cup team, who claimed victory over underdog team Croatia, is predominantly African, and at least half are Muslim.

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Yet, France does little to accommodate its everyday immigrant citizens and citizen-hopefuls, nor is it friendly to its Muslim citizens and residents; the French government of 2016 was blasted by the international community for its “Burkini Ban,” which outlawed Muslim women from wearing full-body swimsuits that comply with Islamic values of modesty.

Luckily, that law was quickly suspended.

But France never questioned immigrants and Muslims who wear football uniforms.

For some reason, they’re bestowed with the coveted label: “GOOD IMMIGRANT”

Why?

Because governments and economies are able to exploit and profit off of immigrants and refugees who have athletic talent.

No, we can’t have immigrants and refugees teaching our children or working in our hospitals or saving our peoples’ lives without huge scandal and upset, but we can have them play for us and gain us international recognition and reputation, no problem.

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Playing professional sports is such an “exceptional” thing to begin with that it’s much easier for people to rationalize and accept that this “exceptional immigrant” deserves an “exceptional” position than it is for them to accept an immigrant taking a job, as, say, a teacher or a service worker.

Those jobs aren’t “exceptional” — people associate those jobs with the everyday person, and more importantly, with themselves, giving birth to the constant rallying cry, “They’re stealing our jobs!”

By no means, however, is this concept of “immigrant exceptionalism” confined to sports.

In May, Mamoudou Gassama, a migrant from Mali living in France, scaled four floors in order to save a child who was dangling from a balcony.

French President Emmanuel Macron himself awarded Gassama with a personal audience, the gift of French citizenship, and an offer of a job with the local fire department.

Today, following the “French” team’s victory, in Europe as well as the United States, we are witnessing a backlash against immigrants and refugees of a magnitude not seen since the Second World War.

Not against “exceptional immigrants,” of course, but everyday people fleeing for their lives.

Italy has banned all rescue ships from docking at its ports — even if they’re Italian ships.

Their policy forced Aquarius, a ship full of hundreds of African refugees, to float aimlessly at sea for days until the Spanish port of Valencia agreed to let the ship dock.

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The conservative Hungarian government recently passed a law that criminalizes the act of providing aid or assistance to immigrants or asylum seekers.

Australia has long been outsourcing its unwanted refugees to inhumane detention camps on satellite island nations like Nauru.

And of course, the United States has recently gained global infamy for its practice of separating immigrant children from their families, holding them in prolonged detention, and extorting their parents who are attempting to reunite with them.

We see this backlash everywhere, and yet each country continues to profit off of select immigrants and refugees that it can find economic or political value in, whether it be through sports or good PR opportunities.

This dual policy so many countries have when it comes to immigrants and refugees needs to be reconciled.

It is categorically and unequivocally unfair and inhumane to claim a victory that was won on the backs of the very people living in refugee camps and slums throughout the nation and denied asylum or citizenship.

The French government — all governments — owe to every immigrant and asylum seeker what Macron gave to Gassama: respect, empathy, and citizenship.

Until then, any claim to victory is hollow.

 

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