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Wednesday, Jun. 30, 2004 at 8:01 PM
Deportations happen in Europe too! In France, people decided to organise themselves into groups to fight for the right to live in the country of one's choice. Here translated is a discussion between 2 of these groups.
Deportations happen in Europe too! In France, people decided to organise themselves into groups to fight for the right to live in the country of one's choice. Here translated is a discussion between 2 groups. The Collective against deportation (Collectif Anti Expulsions) formed in 1998 after a successful struggle against the deportation of people without papers who had been expulsed from 2 churches which they occupied. They believe in taking decisions collectively and freedom of circulation for everyone. The Collective of people without papers of the House of Togetherness (Maison Des Ensembles) are a collective of people without papers who squat collectively.
CAE: We'd like you to tell us how so many people mananged to occupy this house for such a long time.
MDE: We organise ourselves according to a model of organised anarchy. We must be organised, but there are no rules that everyone should follow, such as, do this or you are excluded. Most of us come from sub-saharan Africa: Mauritania, Guinea, Mali. There are 3 ethnicities in our Collective and everything is translated.
CAE: How do you maintain your financial autonomy since all of you have stopped working in order to squat?
MDE: The budget has never been our main preoccupation. In the beginning we had problems collecting money to buy food. Now each room of the house contributes money to buy food. During demonstrations we ask for donations to pay for the telephone and things like that.
CAE: This is an important question since most of the people who occupy this building are people who don't work. Which means that if they can't send money to their families, then others must do it instead. This means that the luccia isn't fought only by those who struggle here, but also by those of your village who receive less money, and by those who send money in your place. It's a collective social movement, and it's not limited to the 300 people who live in this house. The choice to squat couldn't work unless it was supported by a large number of immigrants living in France. What do you think?
MDE: Those in the collective devote all their time to the luccia. The friends and brothers who loan us money, who donate for example 200 francs a week and take care of our families are what allows us to be a powerful collective. The collective is like the façade of a building. Behind the façade are all the people who keep the collective stable. They do that because it's the luccia.
CAE: Tell us how your collective was formed. Did you know each other before, how did you come to squat here, where does the collective come from?
MDE: Me, I joined in October after the collective had already begun. The objective of anyone without papers is to join a collective. The administration wouldn't help us or hear us. The only way to gain something was collectively.
Another member of the MDE: First, we were just a small group who got together because we were without papers. So we went to different foyers (housing complexes reserved to immigrants in France), we invited anybody without papers to join us, until we were 50, then 100 strong. Then we squated in the building which became the House of togetherness, we declared that all paperless can join us, and many came.
CAE: Can you talk about the types of actions you do?
MDE: One thing that was organised by other activist groups was sponsoring, in which a citizen of France sponsors somebody without papers and tries to defend their rights to the administration. But for 100 people who are sponsored, only 2 or 3 sponsors will succeed in doing something. This type of method divides the luccia because people without papers get hypnotised by their hope that someone will sponsor them and resolve their problems. . I was sponsored by the assistant to the mayor of Braouzec and it wasn't very useful. Generally, the sponsor tells you, "don't struggle as a collective, that's pointless."
Individual sponsors are not useful for a collective struggle.
When people without papers go on a hunger-strike, we feel obliged to support them. A hunger strike might help one individual but not do anything for the others. We don't want to resolve the problems case by case, but collectively. Each paperless person who joins us fights for his freedom. We want legal papers so that we may work and send money to our families. But if with papers we become handicapped…
CAE: Right now, when the luccia isn't at its strongest you are the most efficient collective. Many other groups are discouraged, but your collective has had many of its members naturalised. Only one of your members has been deported, and he's come back! What do you do when one of your members is arrested?
MDE: When one member of the collective is arrested, we often call you to start mobilising together…
CAE: One of the problems with the legal groups of other collectives than yours, is that not everybody was informed when someone was arrested, only the delegated undocumented people, who wouldn't inform the rest of the group. Before your group, it was never a collective initiative to mobilise…
MDE: Ever since the deportation of Cissoko Sori, we've had several members arrested, but no more have been deported. Some explanations: For one, last year in March, the Ministry has started working on the file of our collective, and since the ministry is very slow, we demanded the guaranty that until it's finished studying all our demands for normalisation, none of our members will be deported. If a member is arrested, we call the police station or the city hall to get him liberated as fast as possible. We explain that if he ends up detained or in court, we'll be obliged to take action. But they won't always back off like that. Only as long as we put the pressure on them.
CAE: Only as long as they're afraid of your reaction. Can you talk about what other activist groups support you?
MDE: Our principal supporter is the CAE! At this time no one works with people without papers. The unions and the far-left groups think that the undocumented people's situation is resolved, that it's not profitable politically to support us.
CAE: In the beginning of the luccia, the MDE had occupied the offices of the French green party. What did that bring you?
MDE: I think it was a good idea with bad consequences. By our pressure, we forced them to support us, but then we had to fight to keep them from taking over our movement. If any other collective wants to do the same thing, I'd encourage them to do it, but carefully. It had made us lose time. The green party wasn't able to defend our situation to the Ministry, and they proposed to take care of our legal problems, which we preferred to manage ourselves. A real supporter is someone who believes in a collective fight, like you.
CAE: We've worked with other collectives, and have appreciated yours because its really a collective effort. I think that what's developed between the CAE and the MDE has transformed the traditional relationship between those who have papers and those who don't.
MDE: We take action together, even though most of your actions, like the interventions in the airports (from where people are deported from France), are not adapted to the delicate situation of undocumented activists. We come to demonstrations, we supported you during your trial. We should meet up as much as possible.
CAE: Many of us participated in the jobless movement, we're organised as well around the issues of welfare and those facing precarious situations. In your opinion, what will change once you have papers, especially if they are valid only for a year. That's still precarious, a shitty job, shitty housing?
MDE: It's difficult to answer that question. Each one of us is free to do what he wants when the luccia is finished.
CAE: Yes, but it's you I am asking.
MDE: We don't know what we'll become after the luccia; will we support other undocumented people? With papers, or without, that's 2 different people. Its true that when you have fought for years in the movement, you get the virus for the luccia. We'll get involved in the jobless' fight and we'll continue to be interested in the issues of undocumented people. To have papers is important; you gain a kind of peace. Without papers, you are always afraid to go to certain places. Before the beginning of the struggle, in 94-95, we were afraid of sweeps. Some will be lucky with papers to find a steady job, but papers don’t guarantee you will find a well paying job or decent lodging. We've seen many African families who live under tents. They often have legal papers, and sometimes are even French citizens, but even with papers are living in precarious situations.
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