The Sans-Papiers defend their autonomy with new protests and occupations


June, 1998

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

150,000 Sans-Papiers - undocumented immigrants and refugees in France - who applied for "regularisation" will be given decisions by 30 May 1998. Of those already decided, half were granted "temporary" papers. The others are under threat of deportation, despite having lived in France for years.

Deportations have risen and become increasingly violent. Over 5000 people were deported in the last six months -- many feel they were told to apply in order to enter police records. Deportees have been tied up, gagged and drugged.

Protest has also intensified. Eight churches outside Paris have been occupied -- the first by 42 Africans in Evry. Many nationalities have since joined all the occupations. Since April, the resistance of deportees and passengers refusing to board in protest, has stopped Air France and Air Afrique aircraft from being used for deportations.

The strength of the Sans-Papiers' movement, begun in March 1996, has always been its autonomy. While encouraging wide support, the original 300 African women and men insisted on Sans-Papiers-only meetings, framing their own demands and tactics. Women - the Sans-Papières - have been central to sustaining this autonomy. As Madjiguène Cissé*, the main spokeswoman, writes: "Each time the movement ran out of steam, the women met and worked out initiatives which relaunched the struggle." On 6 May 1998, 100 women and children Sans-Papiers marched through Nantes while men and supporters "debated" in an occupied church. On 29 May, women and children from Guinea occupied the Clermont-Ferrand immigration/police office to demand their papers.

Some "supporters" from voluntary organisations and political parties have resented the Sans-Papiers' autonomy. Their attempt to take over the direction of the movement and "water down" its demands intensified after the socialists were elected. In a recent Open Letter* Madjiguène Cissé and Salah Teiar, describe an attempted take-over by "supporters".

Their experience confirms ours. Women who have organised independently without cutting themselves off from the rest of the movement, have been most effective. As the Blair government talks of granting papers to 10,000 asylum seekers while cracking down on the others, the Sans-Papiers struggle for autonomy remains key to anti-deportation movements everywhere.

Faxes supporting permanent regularisation of all Sans-Papiers to:
Lionel Jospin, Prime Minister +33 1 42 75 79 47
Copy to Madjiguene Cisse +33 1 46 07 16 19 (phone/fax)

Visit the 'sans papiers' WEB site in English..., send your support:

* Madjiguene Cisse wrote "Sans-Papiers: A Woman Draws the First Lessons", women's autonomy and why and how the Sans Papiers organise. Crossroads Books, PO Box 287 London NW6 5QU. (0171) 482 2486. £2 pounds (free post). Open Letter of 5 May 1998 also available.