by Sara Callaway (Black Women for Wages for Housework)
and Benoit Martin (Payday men's network).
PO Box 287 London NW6 5QU - Tel +44 181 482 2496 Fax +44 171 209 4761
IN December, the Sans-Papiers movement - literally "without papers" - and Madjiguène Cissé, their main spokeswoman, received the prestigious Carl-von-Ossietzky Medal from the International Federation of Human Rights League (German section), in recognition of their "public-spirited courage" in campaigning for the rights of immigrants and refugees. In accepting the Award, Ms Cisse asked for a minute of silence in memory of Semira Adamu, the young Nigerian woman killed by Belgian police attempting to deport her last September.
The Sans-Papiers movement started in Paris in 1996 when 300 African women, men and children occupied churches to stop deportations and claim the right to 'papers for all'. Their organising has grown, crossing the divides between economic and political refugees of 40 nationalities - immigrants, asylum seekers, students, migrants and others denied the right to stay - and inspiring many people in other countries.
The strength of the Sans-Papiers has been their autonomy. While encouraging wide-spread support, they have insisted on meeting independently from established human rights organisation in order to work out their own demands and tactics. Women - the "Sans-Papières" - have been crucial to sustaining this autonomy and keeping the Sans-Papiers together. Ms Cisse, a mother of two, wrote the Sans Papiers: A woman Draws the First Lessons, a compelling account of why and how the Sans-Papiers organised independently from established organisations and political parties, and how their success has depended on women taking their autonomy from men.
Most established organisations in France only support those Sans-Papiers who have registered with the immigration authorities. But the Sans-Papiers have continued to demand regularisation for all. To reorganise in the Paris region, a new Collective of the Sans-papiers of Ile-de-France was formed and is planning a European Conference in Paris, and a demonstration at the European Parliament, 18 to 21 March, marking the Sans-Papiers' third anniversary.
The award, presented to Ms Cissé in Berlin, has given an impetus to the anti-deportation movement in Germany: a caravan of Sans-Papiers has been touring the country, and Kurdish immigrants went on hunger strike against deportation.
In Brussels, last September, 2,000 people protested on the day Ms Adamu was murdered, while inmates at the detention centre where she had been held went on hunger strike. A poll showed that 2/3 of Belgians support the regularisation of Sans-Papiers. Protests in London highlighted how Joy Gardner suffered a similar fate as Ms Adamu at the hands of immigration officers and police in 1993. The widespread outcry gave an impulse to a series of church occupations which went ahead despite opposition from established organisations.
Elsewhere in Europe, protests in Italy lead to the closure of a detention centre in Trieste, and in December 350 protesters sailed to Albania seeking justice for the intentional sinking of a boat of refugees by Italian authorities last year. The movement for refugees and asylum seekers' in Britain has also drawn strength from the Sans-Papiers in protesting New Labour's proposals. Like other European governments, it plans to grant amnesty to a few refugees while cutting benefits, housing and other resources, stepping up detention and implementing fast tracking deportations for many, and increase racism and discrimination against all Black and immigrant communities. While labeling refugees as bogus, British hospitals are scouring Third World countries to recruit nurses to work for low-wages in the health service.
With the birth of new Sans-Papiers collectives, the issue of their autonomy continues to be a priority, and women are pressing to be heard including by getting official recognition for rape and other violence suffered by women refugees which entitles them to asylum.
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