The Sans-Papiers: A Woman Draws the First Lessons


Black Women for Wages for Housework,
Crossroads Women's Centre,
PO Box 287, London NW6 5QU
Tel: 0171 482 2496 Fax: 0171 209 4761

  • The Sans-Papiers: A Woman Draws the First Lessons by Madjiguene Cisse
  • This is a remarkable account of the new movement of undocumented asylum seekers and immigrants by their major spokeswoman who is from Senegal. In August 1996, the Sans-Papiers became internationally known when 300 undocumented African women, children and men were violently evicted by police from the St Bernard Church in Paris, where they had taken sanctuary for several months. The Sans-Papiers of St Bernard have organised several occupations, gone on hunger strikes and toured France in a caravan to mobilise support against deportations. They demand papers for all, an end to detention and deportation, the return of all deportees, and the repeal of all immigration laws. Their movement has spread throughout France and beyond. Thousands of Sans-Papiers from 40 different nationalities have joined over 24 collectives across France. Following their example, immigrants in Italy also occupied a church.

    Madjiguene Cisse describes who the Sans-Papiers are, how they have organised and kept control of their movement, taking their autonomy from voluntary sector organisations while bringing together wide-ranging support from anti-racist, women's and community groups, churches, trade unions and celebrities. It highlights how dependent the Sans-Papiers movement has been for its survival and direction on African women taking their autonomy from the men. "Every time the battle lost momentum", says Ms Cisse "women met and found initiatives to restart it." Ms Cisse traces the autonomy of the Sans-Papiers women to its roots in the work African women do, on which the survival of families and communities depend, and which has been crucial to the liberation movements in their countries of origin. She also spells out why people emigrate -- the exploitative economic and political relationship France has imposed on the people in its ex-colonies with the help of African governments -- and the work of being an immigrant.

    Ms Cisse's pamphlet is a tremendously exciting and uplifting introduction to the movement that has been rocking France, gathering support and giving leadership for the opposition to the immigration laws of Fortress Europe, as well as to the new rise in fascism. This pamphlet is a much needed weapon for everyone in the anti-deportation, anti-detention and anti-racist movements as we move into the 21st century. The translation is excellent.

    Black Women for Wages for Housework and Payday men's network have been working to publicise the Sans-Papiers movement since we first visited them in Paris in August 1996. Both organisations have for many years been part of the movement for the rights of immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers, and against deportation.

    The Sans-Papiers: A Woman Draws the First Lessons, Crossroads Books (address below). L1.75 + 25p postage (trade terms).

    Madjiguène's full article in French, Spanish and Italian

    The Ballad of the Sans-Papiers, a 90-minute documentary with English sub-titles, filmed before and during the St Bernard occupation. This moving video records their famous church occupations and other actions, and includes news footage and interviews with the women and men who took part. The premiere screening in Britain was on 21 March 1997, at St Mary's Church in London. The video is currently touring the UK as a fund-raiser for the Sans-Papiers. Also available free: the Sans-Papiers International Petition.

    To arrange showings of the video and for other information, contact: Black Women for Wages for Housework, Crossroads Women's Centre, PO Box 287, London NW6 5QU Tel: 0171 482 2496 Fax: 0171 209 4761

    Sans-Papiers Web site:

  • Sans-Papiers International petition
  • Call for international solidarity

    21 January 1997

    Ten months ago, 300 African men and women began their struggle for the right to live and work in France. In August 1996, they were violently evicted from the St Bernard Church which they had occupied. Some of these men and women had been on hunger strikes, in one instance for more than 50 days. Every week the Authorities are deporting more people without regard for human rights. Thousands of Sans-Papiers (those without papers) from 40 different countries have joined the struggle since August 1996, and set up a regional co-ordinating group under the impulse of groups in Ile-de-France (Paris region), which quickly decided to bring together all the Sans-Papiers collectives in France in a national co-ordination, aiming to spread the Sans-Papiers' action to bring about a wave of regularisation. The supporters of the Sans Papiers movement include trade unions, left wing organisations, community groups, people committed to democratic rights, and artists. This struggle is becoming a central issue in France. The Sans-Papiers movement now needs international solidarity with other groups and movements around the world, and to unify with immigrants involved in similar struggles in the UK, Spain, Germany, the USA . . . They also need the support of organisations, groups and individuals who identify with their struggle for freedom. We urge you to send a letter of protest to the French government and to the president. A sample letter follows and can be signed by individuals, community organisations, trade unions...

    Sample letter

    We are very concerned about the way your government is treating the Sans-Papiers in France. Despite the actions they have taken which include life-threatening hunger strikes, numerous protests and demonstrations of solidarity, your government continues to refuse them the basic right to live and work in France. We admire the courage and determination of these men and women. Despite their imprisonment, shameful deportations, repression and harassment, they continue their struggle for dignity and freedom. They are fighting for our freedom too. We support their demands and will do everything we can to strengthen solidarity with them in this country. We demand with them:

    Yours sincerely

    Send your protest letters urgently to:

    M. le Premier Ministre
    58, rue de Varenne, 75007 Paris
    fax:++ (331) 45 44 15 72

    M. le President de la Republique
    55, rue du fbg. St. Honore, 75008 Paris
    fax: ++ (331) 47 42 24 65

    Please send a copy to:
    Coordination Nationale des Sans-Papiers
    22, rue Pajol, 75018 Paris, France
    fax ++ (331) 46 07 16 19

    Visit the 'Sans-papiers' WEB site in French, German, English, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, Wolof and Saninke: