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France: Outrage after schools asked to provide numbers on Eid absences

Schools in Toulouse were asked to provide police with numbers of pupils absent during recent Muslim festival
Students raise their hands at "Revolution Jet d'Eau" school in Marseille, southern France, on 1 September 2022 (AFP)
Students raise their hands at "Revolution Jet d'Eau" school in Marseille, southern France, on 1 September 2022 (AFP)

Anti-racism groups, Muslim leaders and a teachers' union have called for an inquiry after the French government asked schools to provide information on the number of students absent during the recent Muslim festival of Eid.

French media reported over the weekend that nursery, primary, middle and high schools in Toulouse received a request from police in late April asking them to supply student absences on Friday 21 April during the occasion of Eid.

Secretary of State for Citizenship Sonia Backes said on Sunday the Interior Ministry requested the information as part of an "evaluation of the rate of absenteeism observed on the occasion of Eid al-Fitr". 

"The ministry regularly studies the impact of certain religious holidays on the functioning of public services, particularly within the school sphere," she wrote on Twitter, denying the request was aimed at identifying students according to religion.

While France is a secular country, six out of 12 national holidays are Catholic calendar events, while the other six have no religious connotation.

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Human rights group SOS Racisme criticised the government's request, saying it amounted to a census on faith which would be illegal under France's secularism laws.

"For which other religious holidays does the Ministry of the Interior request an assessment of the absenteeism rate?” it wrote on Twitter.

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A regional spokesperson for the teachers' union SUD-Education also derided the request and called on "the School Security Police Correspondents, the prefecture and the rectorate to request explanations regarding this procedure and to demand the official withdrawal of this injunction which is akin to denunciation".

Meanwhile, the Union of Mosques said "families must be duly informed and reassured of the fate of the information given by some heads of schools who have, unfortunately, responded to the request of the police."

France's fragile relationship with its Muslim community, which stands at more than 5 million people, has been tested in recent years after President Emmanuel Macron introduced a series of controversial laws, including the anti-separatism law and imam charter

Several human rights groups have deemed the legislation Islamophobic, with some observers claiming the minority is being collectively punished for the actions of a fringe group that have carried out attacks.

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