France: Revolts in the migrant detention centres

Rebellions are increasing in the detention centres of Vincennes and Mesnil-Amelot, with deportation refusal, protests against appalling living conditions and police racism adding to unrest over the health crisis and rising Covid case numbers among detainees.

Mesnil-Amelot

Over the last several months, prisoners at Mesnil-Amelot have initiated many revolts and protest movements, with the most recent being a hunger strike which began last week. On the day it began, prisoners gathered in the courtyard, shaking the gates and hanging up a banner, resulting in an intervention by more than 50 cops.

The prisoners had begun the strike specifically in response to the deportation of a Malian prisoner who had been in France for more than 25 years and had been living with his wife and children. Other demands concerned their living conditions, including improvements to disgusting, out-of-date food, and an end to daily racist behaviour by the guards.

A few days later (last Friday), a prisoner lost consciousness during the communal mealtime and collapsed in the refectory. He subsequently tested positive for Covid and following this, the prisoners carried a banner to protest against the administrative detention center (CRA)’s lockdown and general management of outbreak (see above). Two buildings (bat 3 and 4) were placed in full confinement for five days, which includes a total ban on visits. The cops prevented them from hanging up the banner, but they were able to take a picture of it.

To support this resistance, a flash protest was organised behind the detention centre. Inside and out, the two demonstrations responded to cries of “Freedom, Hurriya, Freedom!” and everyone was banging on the gates. The prisoners managed to get out into the yard, even those in buildings 3 and 4.

Vincennes

Information is sketchy but last earlier this month a group of Tunisian prisoners managed to cut the electricity in a CRA block in an effort to prevent deportations. The day before, in another building in the centre, a big demonstration of solidarity followed a detainee being placed in solitary confinement, with other prisoners refusing to eat until he was released. Then when they learned that he had been placed in GAV (administrative detention) they said to themselves that they wanted to eat but the refectory had closed. So they decided to help themselves directly. Here is a testimonial:

“Some Tunisians had a flight planned, they didn’t want to go. They cut off the electricity, they blew up the meter. There was a flight planned for five people, a group flight. Working together they messed things up, there was no light for 30 minutes, they broke things in the centre, in building 2. Despite all that, despite the mess we tied them up with, reinforcements came and they took the flight.

“In building 1, there is a Tunisian who went to reception around 6pm to ask for his ticket to eat as usual. The police told him that it was not time, even through it was 6.10pm and the refectory opens at six. They started exchanging words, more guards came, they got into a fight and they threw him into solitary confinement. We said ‘the guy is sick, he has a psychiatric problem, if you don’t get him out of isolation, nobody eats.’ Throughout the whole centre we were united. The guy is sick, he’s been to the centre three times, alternating between psychiatric and the CRA. He hasn’t seen the outside for months. It’s the same for me, since 2020 I have not seen the outside, it’s prison, CRA, prison, CRA. I went to prison, I served my sentence; then I arrived at the CRA where I did 90 days, after which they brought me back to GAV, for refusal of the test. The judge gave me three months in prison. I did one-and-a-half months, and once I got out of prison they brought me back here.

“We said we don’t eat. If the guy doesn’t get out of isolation, we don’t eat. No-one showed up to the refectory. Eventually we learned that he had brought him back to GAV and we said to ourselves that he was not going to come back that day, so we asked each other what are we doing? We couldn’t sleep without eating, if that’s the way it is, we’re going to get some food.

“When we went to the reception, they said no you can’t eat the refectory it is closed. We said we did this for a brother. The guy was just going to take a ticket, he just wanted to eat and he got hit. We said ok, we went into the refectory, we broke the doors, everyone helped themselves, bread and all that, we broke the refectory. We broke the cameras. The officers arrived, the commander wanted to speak with us. We said no, we did this for the guy in question. They didn’t do anything to us afterwards because there we’d broken the cameras, there was nothing for proof.

“We are united. When there’s something wrong we try to work together. The guy hasn’t come back from GAV yet, I think he has been moved to a new building.”

The struggles in the CRAs against the expulsions, the imprisonment and the violence of the cops are daily. What is most often lacking is a response organised from the outside, to quickly and effectively support resistance and collective movements.

Let’s call the booths [ed: dial in to the block telephones], let the detainees’ words circulate, let’s meet in front of the CRAs and in the street to support their revolts, let’s stand in solidarity with the prisoners!

~ À bas les CRA


The above is an edited machine translation of articles at Paris-Luttes and À bas les CRA. The banner reads “Free us. Covid and its variants are claiming victims at CRA 3″