France’s N. African doctors consider emigration with rise of far right

PARIS – In the southern French city where Tunisian doctor Tasnime Labiedh works, the far-right National Assembly, or RN, came out on top with 41 percent in the first round of French elections. He is now thinking of moving to Switzerland.
“We are no longer spoiled here, but if we have (Jordanian) Bardella as prime minister, it will be grim. They are playing on the fear of the other,” said 33-year-old Labiedh, referring to the RN president.
She moved to France in 2021 during the COVID-19 pandemic for her medical internship and now works as a microbiologist with a lower salary than her French colleagues.
After the RN came out on top in the first round of French parliamentary elections last Sunday, some foreign doctors are wondering if they will stay or feel welcome in a country that does not respect their rights.
Polls predict the RN will win the largest share of seats in parliament, but not a majority.
Among 11 doctors of North African descent or nationality interviewed by Reuters, six said they were considering leaving France because of the political situation.
One doctor immigrated to Canada a month ago.

BACKGROUND

Tunisian doctor Tasnime Labiedh moved to France in 2021 during the COVID-19 pandemic for her medical internship and now works as a microbiologist with a lower salary than her French colleagues.

After Luxembourg, with only 3.17 doctors per 1,000 inhabitants, France has the most serious shortage of doctors among OECD countries. In the city of Labiedh, there are 1.73 doctors per 1000 inhabitants.
“We live in enormous hypocrisy. The far right in France is doing well on immigration, with migrants being portrayed as the problem. But if migrants stopped working tomorrow, our entire social and economic system would be paralyzed,” Hicham Benaissa, a sociologist at France’s CNRS National Center for Scientific Research, told Reuters.
In a study of 350 doctors of North African descent in France to be published next year, Benaissa found that 75 percent of doctors, including those trained abroad and those born in France, are considering emigration.
RN did not respond to requests for comment.
Bardella, the most likely candidate for prime minister should the RN defy the polls and win a Labor majority, said last month that “our compatriots of foreign nationality or origin who work, pay taxes, respect the law and love our country have nothing. be afraid.”
RN leader Marine Le Pen has previously proposed “drastically reducing” the employment of doctors with qualifications from outside the EU and giving priority to French candidates for the job.
In 2023, 29,238 doctors working in France were trained outside the EU, a 90.5 percent increase compared to 2010, representing about 7 percent of the total workforce, according to the National Council of the Medical Order, or CNOM.
North African doctors make up more than half of them.
Doctors qualified from outside the EU must complete exams and administrative procedures to register with the Medical Association, which generally takes three to five years. Previously, they were paid less than French doctors.
Widad Abdi, a doctor and representative of the SNPADHUE trade union for doctors qualified outside the EU, says politicians are not solving structural problems.
“Whether they are foreign or not, more and more doctors are leaving – the health system does not support them to stay: working conditions, pay, hours, the number of patients has increased and the number of doctors has decreased.”
In the first round of parliamentary elections, the RN fared better in regions with poor access to health care, with a correlation rate of -52 percent, a Reuters analysis of the results and data on access to a local doctor, an indicator of the party’s success, showed. in neglected rural areas.
In cities that put RN candidates first, more than a quarter of residents do not have access to a local doctor, compared to 13 percent in cities that put President Emmanuel Macron’s group first and 8 percent in cities won by the left-wing alliance.
Improving access to public health services in areas with poor access to health care, called “medical deserts”, is among the promises of the RN campaign.
Foreign doctors, as well as French doctors of immigrant origin, play an essential role in these areas, where places are less prestigious than in large urban hospitals, says Benaissa.
In Ales in the south of France, half of the votes went to the RN. A&E doctor Leila Elamrani, who moved to France from Morocco in 2004, says she feels the pressure on her service, taking patients from surrounding areas.
“People don’t have general practitioners, so they come here for a cold, for a doctor’s note, to take sick leave,” she said. “That, along with an aging population and a lack of resources, is creating a huge mess.”
Lydia Boumaarafi, a French doctor of Algerian heritage specializing in addiction, is not waiting to see what happens. She moved to Canada a month ago in part because of “its approach to multiculturalism.”
“The situation is at a peak now (with the RN vote) but the climate has been like this for some time,” she said. (Reporting by Layli Foroudi; Additional reporting by Leigh Thomas; Editing by Richard Lough and Angus MacSwan)

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