African Demography, Immigration, and Xenophobic Populist Ideology in France

The Centre on Migration, Policy & Society (COMPAS), in association with the Fertility and Reproduction Studies Group, Institute of Human Sciences (IHS) is pleased to host Yves Charbit, Professeur émérite de démographie, UMR CEPED, Université Paris Cité; Research Associate, Fertility and Reproduction Studies Group, Institute of Human Sciences, School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography (SAME), University of Oxford.

Migration, one of the three major components of population growth, is undoubtedly the one for which contextualization is most necessary because individual mobility behaviours reflect much more than mortality or fertility, which is the decisive influence of global economic, socio-cultural, and primarily political factors.

Populism is a rhetoric that develops a racist and xenophobic manipulation of public opinion by establishing a pseudo-causal chain between the “explosive” demography of Africa and the risk of massive immigration.

I first present three fallacious arguments developed by xenophobes hostile to African immigration in France and Europe: (1) The European economic Eldorado; (2) The youth of the African population; (3) The alleged inescapable demographic decline of Europe. Then, I recall some contradictory data on international migration from Africa, establishing that demographic growth does not automatically translate into migratory flows because many other factors come into play.

The second part critically examines three primary fantasies about immigration elaborated in France as early as the 1970s and strongly developed in later decades: the self-proclaimed “Theory of the threshold of tolerance”, “The rush to Europe”, and “The Great Replacement”. Internal inconsistencies, epistemological flaws, and sheer ignorance of available data are strikingly patent in the three arguments.

The third part explores the historical roots of this populist ideology hostile to immigration, which, in France, seeks to exploit African demography politically. I conclude that African immigration is a boon for xenophobic populism.

The paper presented at the seminar draws from a chapter of an ongoing (2023-2026) international interdisciplinary research project on Human Rights and global migrations.