French far-right groups are weaponising the murder of a 12-year-old girl to whip up anti-immigrant sentiment, despite pleas from the victim’s family not to politicise their daughter’s death.
France has been horrified by the killing of the young girl from Paris, identified only as “Lola,” whose body was found in a suitcase on the 15th of October, with the numbers “0” and “1” written in red ink on the soles of her feet.
A 24-year-old woman, who occasionally stayed with her sister who lived in the same Parisian apartment building as victim’s family, was arrested last Monday and charged with the murder and rape of Lola. The woman, named in media reports as Dahbia B., is an Algerian national with a history of psychiatric disorders who had come to France as a student in 2016, but had been issued an order to leave the country within 30 days in August.
Amid the national outcry over the murder, far-right groups have seized on the suspect’s nationality as evidence that the country’s immigration policy is failing – and to paint immigration as a security threat to French citizens.
In recent days, far-right groups have held rallies in cities including Paris, Lyon and Rennes, which have been marred by racist slogans and incitements to hatred.
Between 100 and 200 far-right activists marched through the city of Lyon on Friday night, lighting flares and chanting “immigrant murderers,” according to local media reports. At the head of the march, they carried banners reading “Justice for Lola” and “immigration kills.”
On Saturday afternoon, in the northwestern city of Rennes, far-right activists rallied to demand “justice for Lola,” where they faced opposition from a left-wing counter-demonstration. While the rally played out without any violence, brutal clashes broke out later on Saturday night at local terrace bars, according to reports, with footage from the scene showing lit flares and people running.
Far-right rallies were also held in Paris on Thursday night, and in Montpellier, where about 200 people marched, on Sunday. On Friday morning, worshippers at a mosque in Pessac, near Bordeaux, discovered it had been defaced with slogans including “justice for Lola.” “Lax state, nationalist revenge,” read the graffiti, along with a message indicating it was a direct action protest by the far-right identitarian movement.
The protests have taken place in defiance of pleas from Lola’s family, who laid their daughter to rest in the northern town of Lillers on Monday, not to politicise their personal tragedy.
On Friday, the family’s lawyer called on protesters to "urgently cease" using "the name and image of their child for political purposes", saying they wished "to be able to honour the memory of their daughter in the serenity, respect and dignity which is due to her.”
Yet that appears to have had little cut-through with far-right activists. Key organisers of the protests have been the far-right Reconquest party, whose controversial leader, Éric Zemmour, unsuccessfully ran in this year’s presidential elections. Zemmour was quick to seize on the murder, branding it a “francocide” – a term he coined earlier this year and has gained traction on social media in the wake of Lola’s murder.
Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Rally party, whose members have also joined the protests, told those gathered in front of the National Assembly in Paris on Thursday to observe a minute’s silence in tribute to Lola that the murder was “one crime too many, one that now requires us to take effective action.”
She denied using the killing for political gain.
In response to the political firestorm over the murder, French President Emmanuel Macron has said that Lola’s family deserve “first and foremost the respect and affection of the nation.” His government has acknowledged that the enforcement of deportation orders, such as the suspect in Lola’s murder had been issued with, has been unsatisfactory. Official figures show that while more than 143,000 deportation orders were issued in 2021, less than 10 percent were carried out, down from nearly 16 percent in 2019.