A day in the life of a (french) anti-deportation activist

                                                                A day in the life of a (french) anti-deportation activist.


6 January, 06.30: wake up. Paul Wem, a leader of the hunger strike of sans papiers in Mesnil-Amelot is due to be put on a plane at 10.45. Destination: Libreville [Freetown] (yes, Libreville, capital of  Gabon). A 30 year old, he has lived in Europe for sixteen years – fourteen in Belgium, two in France. For ten days I have spoken to him once or twice a day. While on hunger strike and refusing liquid, he has taken on the role of spokesperson; he has given interviews under his real name. Initially we had a discussion within the network, quickly obsolete, to decide if we could intervene on his behalf as he had no children. A decision was reached: the role he had played in the defence of the detainees, including those with children, meant we could not abandon him.

Robinson, RER [French train] line B, 7.30, direction: Roissy [Parisian airport]. At Denfert, my telephone rings – its Claude from Privas, Ardeche: “the Moussa family who were called to the police station were arrested yesterday and have been transferred to the Centre de Rétention Administrative (similar to IRCs in Britain, essentially a foreigners’ prison) in Lyon. Both parents and their three children – Ryad, 7, Racha, 5, and Roumaissa, 15months, were woken early this morning. They are due to be put on an Air France plane to Roissy 2 Terminal B, where they will take off for Algiers at 09.35, still with Air France.” I reply that I am on my way to Roissy 2 C and that we will also go and speak with the passengers at 2B.

St-Denis, Stade de France: another call (under the watchful eye of an intrigued couple who, since Bourg la Reine, have been sitting opposite me). “Its Dany from Marseille. We have a young Kurdish kid here, 25 years old, in France since he was 18, father of two – one 2 years old, the other 4 months – on an Air France plane for Istanbul. He refused to do his military service and sought asylum in France. He will be punished if he returns to Turkey. Could you guys go and talk to the other Air France passengers?” No problem, we’ll follow that up. Villepinte station, RER B. The phone again: “its Claude, from Privas. We just got a call from Mohamed Moussa – they weren’t taken to Roissy but were put directly on a plane to Algiers. It’s all over for them, despite the demo we organized outside the police station.” Two parents, three kids, uprooted from the lives they had made – Monsieur Hortefeux [Minister of Immigration, Integration, National Identity and Cooperative Development] must be thrilled: 2008 has started well.

In Roissy, there’s about thirty of us at the baggage check in for the Air France flight for Libreville, and we’re joined by trade unionists from CGT and CFDT [French unions] (who single-handedly rescue any of Air France’s honour that remains). We have discussions with the passengers who are queuing to check their baggage, and most often we are welcomed. We tell them briefly about Paul Wem and we describe to them what is going to happen to him: deported, bound head to toe like a parcel on the plane: gagged, folded in two with a cop ready to sit on him if he cries. 10.15, the flight to Gabon has finished boarding.   The waiting begins, eyes fixed on the screen that says “Boarding complete” and then “Flight delayed”. We learn that passengers have protested, demanding to the pilot that the man due for deportation is taken off the plane, as they are well entitled to. After a delay of an hour and fifteen minutes, the flight takes off – Paul Wem is on board. M. Hortefeux must be really happy.

We move towards terminal A, where Air France passengers for Istanbul are gathering. We only find a few: this Paris-Istanbul flight is probably fed by connections from all over the country. In addition, Turkish solidarity when it comes to Kurds is by no means guaranteed:  the plane takes off with M. Ylmaz on board. A really great day for M. Hortefeux. 

In the meantime, the trade unionists tell us about the opening a few days ago of an improvised waiting area in terminal B. This waiting area is a place where those arriving in Roissy without having their papers in order, or those who the police suspect of not having papers in order, are literally stocked up. They are usually placed in area christened ZAPI3 that can accommodate 170 people, but it would appear that there has recently been a significant influx of Chechens and Somalis. Of course, letting them go is out of the question: Chechen asylum seekers must be fraudsters! Accordingly, border police commandeered an old boarding room to pile up these passengers, entirely without comfort or hygiene, with entry forbidden to almost everyone.

Only politicians have the right to visit detention centres at any time. Several senators and deputies are contacted. Jean Desessard, a Green senator from Paris is available – a réseau faithful and a senator who isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty! He arrives, almost on the spot. The press has been informed. At 2.30, our little cohort guided by the trade unionists and followed by the cameras takes off for the basement of Roissy, under surveillance of dumbfounded police who send us back to the border cops. Back again to the top, to a chilly welcome from police officers who are evidently not bowled over by the prospect of visiting their clandestine prison. Jean Desessard requests to be accompanied by journalists and RESF. Categorically refused. He informs them that he will film it himself. Again refused.

The senator is finally directed towards the much-famed room. Effectively a disused boarding room, 68 passengers, men and women, have been held there for four or five days and will probably be there many more. There are toilets, which at the time of Jean Desessard’s visit had apparently just been cleaned.

but not a single shower. There are the sort of benches typical to a boarding lounge, but no beds. The detainees sleep on seats, or on the floor. There are no tables: they eat off their knees, or off the floor. No phonebox, which is illegal. Upon leaving, Jean Desessard calls an impromptu press conference and announces that he has visited several prisons and detention centres, but that he has never seen anything like that holding room. His interview is aired at eight o’clock on France 2, January 5th.

The journalists barely gone, another call: we are informed of another space, in terminal 2 A this time, in which Chechen families with babies are to be held in filthy, appalling conditions.

Once again the border police return, who are doubtless beginning to realize that we mean business: its 18.00, we have been here since 8.00 in the morning. When he returns, Jean Desessard is shocked: basically, he found three families with young children in downright despicable conditions: repellent toilets, a clogged-up shower, dirty nappies in the corner. The cops’ excuse is that this place is cleaned just like the rest of the airport and no more. Nobody – not Paris Airport, not the police – wants to take responsibility for the extra work resulting from the permanent presence of families with young children – a conflict for which these families pay the price. Human rights are alive and well in France! 

20.00: read emails. The litany of horrors continues.

Wahid Bridji, a 32 year old Algerian living in the 19th arrondissement in Paris, father of a little boy (3), and step-father to his wife’s five French children. His deportation was scheduled for the 12th January. We learnt yesterday that it was put forward by a week, without a doubt to punish Wahid for being a pillar of the protest movement of detainees in Vinciennes. Presented for boarding this morning, he succeeded in refusing to fly. He was immediately judged guilty that same afternoon, and condemned to a month in a closed prison and a year’s exile from France. He will, therefore, be deported upon his release from prison if we do not secure his release.

Clermont-Ferrand: this morning at 10.00, around thirty of us (including Kamel’s sister) gather outside the local authority to protest Kamel Mosbah’s arrest yesterday at around 18.00 yesterday evening in a bar in the city centre. The media are present (La Montagne, Clermont-Premiere, France 3 Auvergne). Kamel’s arrest is therefore largely known by the press and tv. Every sans-papiers’ worst enemy: silence.

We asked that a delegation be received: the Prefect’s Cabinet made it known that they did not wish to receive us. We decided to gather outside the Central Police Station instead.

At 13.30, sixty of us gathered outside the station with banners and megaphones. The media continued to attend our meetings.

It still isn’t over: tomorrow’s deportations are announced. That of Zaccariae Meddah, a 23 year old Morrocan, who has lived in France since he was 14 years old, living with his father who has had status to remain for ten years. He was picked up in Metz when visiting his family. He will be removed on January 5th, much like Benjamin Badikadila, one of the leaders of the movement of sans-papiers in Mesnil-Amelot. The minister can be proud of his success in removing this father of five children, a carer at the Brie-Comte-Robert hospital.  

– Richard Moyon, Réseau Éducation Sans Frontières

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