France: developments in the sans-papiers movement

09.Sep.02 - The past weeks have seen a tremendous activity of the sans-papiers.

Contrary to what has been said on occasions, in the past year or so a number of important sans-papiers struggles took place. Examples are a series of occupations in Lyon (two undocumented foreigners who are taking part in them have been in the Strasbourg camp for a couple of days), the occupation of the place in front of a church in Massy (a suburb of Paris) which has been lasting for over five months now, followed by another one in another church of the same department.

On Saturday August 17th a collective of sans-papiers "occupied" the basilique de Saint Denis (another, much nearer, suburb of Paris). Quotation marks because it was done in agreement with the Church authorities and the (CP) community council. The basilique de Saint Denis is the first, and one of the most famous, gothic cathedral. As a consequence, this occupation got a large press coverage. The next Monday, a delegation of the collective had a meeting with the prefecture, a thing which it usually takes much longer to get.

On August 24th a demonsration was called on the 6th anniversary of the brutal and famous evacuation of the Saint Bernard church. This demonstration attracted many more people than the ritual demonstrations of the Coordination Nationale usually do.

After this, things suddenly sped up in Saint Denis with hundreds, then thousands of undocumented foreigners rushing in to be inscribed on lists which were to be handed over to the authorities in the hope they'll be regularized. LDH and MRAP, two ONGs with a long time experience of keeping the movement within the limits which are tolerable to the government, got an appointment with the minister of home affairs on Tuesday 27th. He told them them that the applications would be reexamined (which was a success) "with humanity and pragmatism" (which is meaningless).

The people who had organized the occupation were overwhelmed, stopped the occupation at the end of the week and directed the undocumented foreigners who still wanted to be inscribed to come on Monday morning to a Union's building in Paris. The Coordination Nationale was supposed to take over at that point but is absolutely unable to organize the undocumented foreigners who are coming out to the light now. Thousands of people came and only part of them could be inscribed. The week was to be devoted to rallies in front of the prefecture to which the lists would be brought (6500 for Paris, 1150 had already been given to the prefecture of the Seine Saint Denis, with others to follow).

The week closed with a large demonstration: around 10 000 people, a majority of them sans-papiers.

So much for a rough summary of the events. It is rather soon for evaluation but a few points emerge. The examination of the file will drag on, some will be accepted, many rejected and part of these will have been made easier to expell. A large part of the undocumented foreigners who are rushing in to be inscribed on the lists do not know they are called to a struggle and won't be heard of anymore. How many will get organized and on which basis is big question now.


Prefect, prefecture = France is divided into 95 departments which are the most important administrative units. State power in the department is split between an elected body, the Conseil General (General Council) and the prefect who is the delegate of the government. As such he has the police forces under his authority. The hierarchical chief of the prefect is the Minister of Home Affairs