Young Migrants in Marseille Have Little to Hope for

A view of the Northern neighborhood of Marseille Photo:

In the previous year, 49 murders in Marseille were linked to drug trafficking. Murders are often committed for intimidation rather than money, and both victims and perpetrators are often children.

The almost fifty homicides is a significant increase over recent years. In 2020, 12 underworld killings occurred, compared to 22 in 2018 and 29 in 2016, with 49 slayings, last year set the record. Showdowns are attributed to a conflict between two clans, but the city’s crime rate is controlled by at least eight gangs. The events there have had an impact on pop culture, for example, the Netflix series Blood Coast (La Pax Marseille) are inspired by actual events.

Rival Gangs from Maghrebians Descent

Eighty percent of these killings, according to police reports, are related to the violent feud between the Yoda and the DZ Mafia, two rival clans. Both are part of the Franco-Maghrebian crime syndicate, which has taken over the drug trafficking responsibilities from the former Corsican mafia.

They are entangled in a web of rivalries and alliances with newly formed gangs that are of Albanian, Chechen, and sub-Saharan descent.

DZ is primarily involved in the trafficking of cocaine and synthetic drugs; despite its Moroccan mafia-inspired name, its leaders actually trace their origins to Algeria. Both “Féfe,” the leader of the Yoda clan, and “Tic,” the leader of the DZ mafia, are only 33 years old.

Today’s drug networks, centered on the trafficking of cannabis and cocaine, have their progeny and descendants to thank for infiltrating housing estates. Ghettoization is, of course, a feature of French cities. The poorest housing blocks in Marseille are located inside the city limits, which sets it apart from the rest of France.

The north of Marseille is one of Europe’s poorest and most crime-infested area.

The names of the estates may be redolent of bucolic old Provence, La Marine Bleue, Les Oliviers (the Olive Trees), La Castellane, the most famous cité in Marseille, where the most famous French footballer, Zinedine Zidane grew up. The gangs have such a stronghold here, they even have checkpoints filtering traffic in and out of the estates.

Young Migrants at Greater Risks

The residential distribution requires professional logistics: some dealers only have to hide the drugs in their homes, while street dealers receive roughly a thousand euros worth of drugs per occasion. The boss controls them with a man whose job is to keep an eye on the dealers and make sure the business runs smoothly.

This, of course, requires additional ‘human resources’, mostly teenagers who are doing the ‘lookouts’. They are known as ‘jobbeurs’ and they are mostly underage children of North-African descent. These child soldiers give alerts to dealers if they notice even the slightest suspicious thing, making it harder for the police to intervene.

Most of these young people are initially recruited for low-level jobs through advertisements posted directly on Telegram channels. One such ad, discovered by France Press in April, read: “Looking for a lookout: Requirements: young, attentive, proficient on two wheels, respectful of customers. Working hours from 10:00 to 22:00 (flexible sales hours). Pay €100 per a day.” Poor youngsters from all over the nation are drawn to Marseille by the easy money; a large number of them travel there from Avignon, Grenoble, and even Paris in order to support themselves through the drug trade.

Even though the work pays well, there is no time off, no public holidays, but even the slightest “professional misconduct” is severely punished by the gangs. A watchman must work for free for days if he fails to spot a police car. If the police seize a dealer’s goods or money, the bosses punish them severely: they beat and torture them. A 16-year-old away was found unconscious after being tortured with a burning torch for selling a small amount of pot without permission.

Growing Violence

“We are facing a paradigm shift,” Prefect Camilleri declared in August last year, stressing that homicides are no longer just a means of controlling drug trafficking, but are now part of an endless spiral of revenge. These are increasingly being carried out by the so-called “charcleurs”, hired assassins, often very young.

This was the case of Matteo F., an 18-year-old Corsican who was detained in April 2023 on suspicion of killing two teenagers, Djibril and Kais, who were listed in the police files as being 15 and 16 years old. The young man admitted to investigators that he had performed contract killings for more than 200,000 euros in a matter of months. More and more of these killings are being recorded to heighten the sense of fear and intimidation, and then shared on Snapchat.

“The young outsiders are more vulnerable, less well paid and well-treated than locals”, said lawyer Valentin Loret, who has represented some of them. “And when police catch them with drugs and cash they fall in the debt trap, with the gangs demanding they pay them back. Migrants from Algeria and Nigeria have also been recruited, thinking they were being hired to work on building sites,” he added.

Marseille today appears to be a unique case compared to the rest of the country: while the inhabitants of the French banlieues often protest against police abuses, the Mediterranean metropolis is now loudly demanding the return of the police.

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