‘Never seen such tension,’ say Vietnamese in France

By Xanh Le   July 4, 2023 | 09:42 pm PT
Ngoc Tram, 40, of the western-central city of Limoges, says protesters have been setting off fireworks, burning trash bins and setting fire to people’s cars all week.

"My apartment is on the third floor, so I see everything clearly with my own eyes," she says. "They gather in groups of tens of people, cover their faces, and burn things."

The situation is more or less the same across France, according to Tram. She watched as her neighbor’s car and a state-owned building went up in flames in Limoges. And she heard that a friend’s restaurant and van were set on fire in the country’s capital, Paris.

"I moved here around 10 years ago, and this is the first time I’ve seen something like this."

Riots have rocked cities across France following an incident in which a police officer shot dead Nahel Merzouk, a 17-year-old boy of North African descent, in late-June. Around 45,000 police officers were deployed across the country overnight on Saturday to regain the peace, reported The New York Times.

French riot police officers walk next to a vehicle upside down during the fifth day of protests in Paris, France, on July 2, 2023. Photo by Reuters

French riot police walk next to an overturned vehicle on the fifth day of protests in Paris, France, on July 2, 2023. Photo by Reuters

Khanh Trang, who lives in Marseille, says she has never seen such a situation during her almost 20-year stay in France. She recalls that in 2005 rebellions torched around 1,000 cars, but that figure doesn’t even come close to the current situation, she says.

"They burn things, break into shops, and steal from high-end stores like Louis Vuitton or Hermès," she tells VnExpress.

Hoang Nam, 23, a Vietnamese student who is working part-time at a bubble tea shop in the southeastern city of Lyon, confirms that every morning when he goes out to school or work, the streets are covered with ashes and trash.

"Sometimes there are remains of cars burned the previous night," he says.

Authorities have executed various measures to control the situation, including ordering bus and tram services to halt nationwide at 9 pm, and systematically issuing orders banning the sale and transport of firework mortars, petrol cans, acids and other flammable chemical products, according to Le Monde.

Still, there seems no end to the riots in sight.

In the meantime, people like Tram, Trang, and Nam are trying to protect themselves and praying for the situation to get better soon.

"I park my car where I feel safe every night hoping it will not be burned," Tram says. "I have also started cutting down on going out. Now I shop for groceries only once a week."

In addition to that, she keeps her children, who are now on summer break, at home with her.

Nam and his coworkers at the bubble tea shop have started to close their store earlier than usual and cover the store’s glass doors in paperboard before going home.

"We do so to prevent the rebellions from spraying paint on our doors or breaking in," he explains. "Many stores nearby were broken into and robbed."

Trang says that she now does her best to store as much less-perishable, pre-processed food at home as possible.

"I’m worried that they will start robbing delivery vans soon," she says. "If that happens, supermarkets’ supply will be affected and we will have nothing to eat."

"So I’m stocking up on whatever foods I can find and storing them at home from now on."

According to CBS News, more than 3,300 people have been arrested, over 1,000 buildings damaged and some 700 police officers injured in rioting since the fatal encounter on June 27.

Notably, the average age of the arrested was 17, and children as young as 12 or 13 have been detained for attacking law enforcement, reported The Independent.

President Emmanuel Macron has urged parents to keep teenagers at home. He has even requested that social media platforms including Snapchat and TikTok remove sensitive coverage of the riots, reported The Guardian.

"I think the unrest is probably less intense in the smaller cities," Trang says. "France has been the ‘capital’ of the civilized world, and it took the older generations thousands of years to build those architectural structures."

She sighs.

"But it only takes the current generation an instant to destroy them."

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