Sans-papiers: a new Wave of Protests against Deportation


April 25th, 1998

by Black Women for Wages for Housework and Payday men's network
PO Box 287 London NW6 5QU - Tel +44 171 482 2496 Fax +44 171 209 4761

In France, the Sans-Papiers - the movement immigrants and refugees initiated by African women and men - have recently stepped up their opposition to deportation with new church occupations and airport actions.

The 150,000 Sans-Papiers who applied for "regularisation" will find out the decision on their case by 30 April 1998. Of those who have already received an answer, half have been granted temporary papers with no guaranteed renewal, and the other half, mainly single men, have been told to leave the country. Immigration authorities are refusing papers to people who have lived in France for 10 to 15 years, have jobs, families and community ties. About 5000 deportations have taken place in the last six months, and many feel that the government's aim in getting Sans-Papiers to apply for regularisation was to put them on police records.

  • Church occupations

    In response, the Sans-Papiers have occupied seven churches(i) outside Paris. The first was occupied by 42 African Sans-Papiers on 7 March. Many other nationalities have since joined in, including Chinese and Maghrebi people. Two attempts to occupy churches in Paris(ii) were broken up by the police. Over 200 people were arrested and detained in harsh conditions: no healthcare, no food for 48 hours, and hasty, unfair trials. Many were later deported.

  • Airport Protests

    In spite of an intimidating police presence at the airport, Sans-Papiers and their supporters are present every day to inform passengers flying to Mali, Senegal, the Cote d'Ivoire, and to protest the deportations. The CGT and SUD Aerien, two national trade unions (similar to the TGWU), are jointly pressing Air France and Air Afrique not to use planes for deportations.

    Many deportations have been prevented when other passengers have refused to board, in support of the Sans Papiers. On 1 April at Roissy airport, 26 supporters and two journalists were arrested; the next day nine passengers on a flight to Mali were arrested for opposing the deportation of Sans Papiers. Deportations have become increasingly violent: Sans Papiers are tied up, gagged and often drugged.

    Although it is not often reported, women - the Sans-Papières - have been crucial to sustaining the struggle. As Madjiguène Cissé(iii), spokeswoman of the Sans-Papiers, said: "Each time the movement ran out of steam, the women met and worked out initiatives which relaunched the struggle." On International Women's day, the Sans-Papières highlighted their demands: benefits and the right to paid employment; recognition of violence and threats against women, including rape, female mutilation and forced marriage; and papers for all.

    A Collective of lesbian and gay Sans-Papiers(iv) was formed in March. They point out that human rights and immigrants rights organisations often ignore the problems they face: "We are creating a new collective of lesbian and gays Sans-Papiers to defend our rights, right to private life, right to live with whoever we want, right to protect our loved ones..."

  • Widening opposition to deportation

    Launched in early April, a petition, signed by prominent film-makers Bertrand Tavernier and Jean-Luc Godard plus 131 others, demands regularisation of all 150,000 Sans-Papiers who have applied. The Conference of French Bishops is also demanding regularisations. On 6 April, 20 prominent trade-unions, human rights and immigrant rights organisations walked out of a government "consultative" meeting in protest at the deportations. Within Jospin's coalition government, opposition is growing: the Communist Party's spokesperson on immigration joined airport demonstrators to denounce "the disgraceful way deportations are done", and the Greens have demanded a stop to deportations. Most Green MPs voted against the current Immigration Bill passed by Parliament.

    The Government was also criticised when the French police seriously injured some of the 110 Chinese refugees in the French colony of New Caledonia. An inquiry on the role of the French government in the recent genocide in Rwanda is also being widely demanded.

  • What you can do

    The National Co-ordination of Sans-Papiers which represents many Sans-Papiers collectives, has asked organisations and individuals to fax messages of protest, demanding an end to deportation and detention, and the permanent regularisation of all Sans-Papiers. Faxes should be sent to:
    Jean-Pierre Chevènement, Ministre de l'Intérieur (Home Office) +33 1 43 59 89 50
    Lionel Jospin, Prime Minister +33 1 42 75 79 47
    Copy to National Coordination of Sans-Papiers +33 1 46 07 16 19 (phone/fax)

    (i) Cathedral of Evry (since 7 March); Saint-Pierre Church, Le Havre (14 March); Cathedral of Créteil (23 March); St.Paul Church, Nanterre (29 March); St Andre Church, Bobigny (5 April); Centre paroissial d'Argenteuil (11 April); Jeanne d'Arc church, Clermont Ferrand (14 April);.

    (ii) Notre-Dame-de-la-Gare Church (on 15 March); Saint-Jean-de-Montmartre Church (on 18 March).

    (iii) Madjiguene Cisse wrote "Sans-Papiers: A Woman Draws the First Lessons" a compelling account of why and how the Sans Papiers organise independently of their supporters, and the women's role in ensuring that autonomy. Available from Crossroads Books, PO Box 287 London NW6 5QU. Tel: +44 (0)171 482 2486. Price £2 pounds (free post).

    (iv) Collectif des Homos Sans Papiers 3, rue Keller BP285, 75524 Paris cedex 11 Contact: Nazeer Shadoo Buccus +33 (0) (+ fax) Anne Rousseau or Marine Rambach +33 (0)