Less than 30 minutes by car from Basel is the Mulhouse Banlieue Les Coteaux.
So close. And yet so far away. If you leave Basel via the border crossing in the direction of France, you will end up in a different world less than 30 minutes by car. The journey leads to Les Coteaux in Mulhouse. The colossal blocks of flats immediately catch your eye – you feel surrounded.
People live close together here. In buildings that no longer do justice to this description. The run-down houses smell of mold and stale air.
Maghrebs, Turks and black Africans live in these blocks. The attempt to strike up a conversation with a group of loafing young people fails: they are selling drugs. Buy – or run away. Especially journalists who want to film.
More chatty is a young Algerian (21) who was born in France and grew up in Les Coteaux. Light green jacket, track pants, electronic ankle bracelet. He has to be at home in the city center by 3 p.m. Otherwise trouble threatens. He tells us he never sold drugs. With a smile on his lips, he goes one better: “Nobody sells drugs here in the neighborhood.”
“The police don’t come here to talk”
When it comes to the police, he doesn’t feel like laughing. He complains that the police officers in the neighborhood wouldn’t turn on their Go-Pro cameras. “Because they know that one of us will receive a tear gas or baton attack.” In short: “The police don’t come here to talk.” There were seven, eight, nine of the officers on the road. “Never in twos or threes. Too dangerous.”
Another resident criticizes the police less than the young people from the neighborhood: Brayan Varmaz (20). He works as a paver in Oensingen SO and lives in the “Turkish Block”, as he says himself.
His inventory of Les Coteaux is sobering: “The living conditions here are not good. It has many delinquents, teenagers and young adults from the neighborhood. They spray the walls, spit everywhere, throw their garbage.” That’s not all: “There are many drug dealers.” Varmaz also mentions stone attacks on the police: “It’s more the little ones who do it.”
Like Varmaz, Assia B.* (47) lives in the “Turkish Block”. She lets us into the house. “The cupboards are broken, there are problems with the electricity in the corridors, there is mold in the apartments.” When the woman tells us, we are in an abandoned apartment. The floor is littered, one wall is smeared with a swastika. For B. it is clear: “It is a forgotten district.”
“Drugs are being traded around the police post”
Elise Cataldi (53), director of the socio-cultural neighborhood center AFSCO, contradicts: “Neither Mulhouse nor France have forgotten Les Coteaux. It’s a neighborhood where people work.” For example in the area of school and living together, as she says. “We are here to accompany and try to overcome these problems.”
This goal is not conducive to the fact that the police officers who are stationed in a post in the neighborhood seem to have their hands tied. AFSCO President Christian Collin (81) explains: “Your role is administrative. If something happens in the district, don’t intervene.” Example: «Drugs are being traded around the police station.» Collin knows, however: “Keeping the boys out of this place does not solve the problem. You’ll find a new place.”
That’s why the Mulhouse councilor Christelle Ritz (45) sees only one way out: “Remove the young problem founders from Les Coteaux and put them in a closed reformatory outside the district.” But the calculation of politics, the state looks different, says the woman from the Rassemblement National: “They prefer to let the small drug dealers do their thing – instead of cleaning up the banlieues. Because they are afraid of provoking nationwide revolts.”
Ritz sees the failed integration as the cause of these banlieue problems: “Certain people in France with a migration background and mostly Muslim faith hate the country, politics and the police.”
“It’s a lawless zone”
There are also people like that in Les Coteaux. Hence her conclusion about the quarter: “It is a lawless zone.” Even if the foot chain Algerian reports otherwise, Ritz says clearly: “The police would like to take action here. But politics forbids it.”
Jean-Marie Bockel (72), Mayor of Mulhouse from 1989 to 2010, disagrees with the councillor: “In Mulhouse there are no lawless zones that the police don’t go into. I know this discourse, it’s been going on all over France and has been for 30 years.”
Bockel also knows the past of Les Coteaux, the quarter that was constructed in the 1960s: “In the beginning, the middle class lived in Les Coteaux: craftsmen, people in technical professions, officials.” These people gradually left the quarters. “They were replaced by an immigrant population. Social problems and unemployment arose.”
During his time as mayor, a lot was invested in the district. “It only got better in the second half of my era. The work bore fruit. But of course: Even in the present, not everything is good in Les Coteaux.”
* Name changed