PARIS – France's equality chief said Wednesday the country was heading "straight into apartheid" and toward a major social explosion unless changes are made rapidly.
Yazid Sabeg issued a wakeup call to the French nation, which has already suffered major rioting from alienated immigrant youth in the country's social housing projects.
He stressed that the current financial crisis will hit those suffering from discrimination and lack of opportunity most severely.
"We are creating a social civil war in this country," said Sabeg. "I believe that today we are digging a ditch that leads straight into apartheid."
Sabeg spoke during a program on the Parliamentary Channel in which he responded to reporters' questions.
Sabeg is the son of Algerian immigrants and is known for his efforts to bring equality to the workplace.
President Nicolas Sarkozy appointed Sabeg in December to the newly created post of diversity and equality commissioner. He is to oversee a government action plan aimed at putting more ethnic minorities on TV screens, in political parties and in elite schools that lead to jobs in government and industry. Details of the plan are to be presented in March.
Sabeg said that France has been given four alerts over the past quarter-century, the latest in 2005 when fiery riots ricocheted through housing projects across France.
French of immigrant origin, most often from Muslim North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa, fill the projects which ring major cities, and those who live there feel isolated from the mainstream. Many French had previously been unaware of the despair and anger locked up in the projects.
Since the 2005 unrest, France has taken a series of measures, but anti-racist groups and experts say discrimination and lack of opportunity remain largely entrenched.
Sarkozy gave broad outlines of the plan in December.
On the agenda is making elite education more accessible to minorities by forcing schools to reserve 25 percent of their places for students receiving state aid.
Among other measures, political parties will be asked to sign a "diversity charter" that could become a criterion for receiving public funds, and TV stations will be required to spell out diversity goals to the country's audiovisual watchdog.
Businesses will be encouraged to accept anonymous resumes so that names and addresses don't keep candidates from a first interview.
Sabeg, like Sarkozy, also wants researchers to be allowed to gather data on ethnic minorities — currently taboo in France which forbids the categorization of the population via ethnicity.