France: Prison overcrowding during heatwave sparks hunger strikes

After an astonishing decision to crush excessive numbers of prisoners into migrant detention centre CRA Vincennes left people living four to a cell, inmates have lost patience with the situation.

The Covid-19 lockdown has posed a problem for France’s border force (the Police Aux Frontières, or Paf) as it markedly slowed their ability to move people through the Administrative Detention Centres (CRAs) which are used to lock up people who have been marked for deportation.

While a lack of flights meant they could not physically remove people at the same speed (though they never entirely stopped), raids and detaining of migrants has continued, leading to a massive backlog of people as the virus continued to spread.

The solution Paf came up with was, of course, to simply lock more people up in the same spaces of Vincennes, Mesnil, Lille and Rennes despite the extremely high chance that this would cause a lethal outbreak of the virus.

The detainees have become increasingly restless as the numbers of people rose, reaching three to a cell, before a new influx of people took place last week in the full blast of the August heatwave. The numbers have risen so high in the small centre, according to prisoners, that 60 people were forced to sleep four to a room with more in the hallways, the stairs and the courtyard.

In a group statement dated August 9th, 35 detainees said:

“We have been more than 60 people in a building (CRA 1) since August 7th, after all being gathered in the same building, and we have four people in a very bad condition, we are lacking air and oxygen. It is very hot, there is not enough food and there are many people among us who are sick (asthmatic, nervous, suicidal). The heat wave has hit 44°C. We want to have a change as soon as possible.”

Matters came to a head last Friday when building 1 was cleared, seemingly to bring in prisoners who were exhibiting active Covid symptoms for solitary confinement. Little to no information about the situation was offered to the other detainees, and they did not sit idly by, with almost half the population of Vincennes starting an immediate hunger strike. A collective complaint was also filed, signed by most of the prisoners.Two people who refused to take a collective Covid test have since been moved into the quarantined wing.

Unfortunately many detainees were already too weak to sustain further damage to their health, and have since been forced to eat, but a core of hunger strikers remain and are entering the second week of the strike.

In a statement, detainees at CRA Rennes described conditions at their own centre, and why they too have gone on hunger strike:

We have no rights here, they are violated. This is a day at the detention center:

The police wake us up every morning without a hello. They slam the doors and turn on the light. Sometimes they come into our rooms at night for nothing. There is no respect and we hear “I’m the boss, I do what I want.”

From 9-11am, we are outside. Supposedly there is cleaning so they close the rooms but it is still dirty afterwards. There are mice and cockroaches. We will sometimes ask for things at the reception but they tell us to wait or want to give us nothing. There are no human relationships. If we had the morale, we would do a little sport but it is not the case.

Then from noon, they call us like animals to eat. Sometimes we have pork while some don’t and the police tell us “you eat what we give you here.” We are also forced to eat meat when we know that for some of us it is not halal.

Then in the afternoon, from 1-3pm, everything is closed. You can’t even buy a bottle of water. We do nothing, we are zombies, we are animals. After 3pm we don’t do anything either. Sometimes we get a ball and sometimes we can’t even take it. We wait until 7pm for the meal.

From 7-9pm we eat and then we do nothing. At 9pm they close the cages. They lock us in the buildings where we have our rooms, like in a zoo. We also hear racist phrases. In some rooms there is a TV but not in all. We’re locked up so if a person tries to kill themselves, there’s nothing we can do.

We have trouble sleeping, we have sleepless nights and nightmares.

For them, we’re just passing through so we don’t have as many rights. Some don’t even have clothes, nothing. They tell us “it’s time you went home. ” But they do not warn us when flights are cancelled. We have asked for doctors several times but we do not see them often.

What shocks us the most is that we are not respected. That we are insulted and pushed to the limit. It is also the abandonment that we feel. A person attempted suicide a few days ago and has not seen any doctor or nurse. They left it like that. And then, racism also towards us, the way the police talk to us.

It is in relation to all this that we decided to start a hunger strike. We wait for something to change. Not necessarily for us but for the future, for others. For the moment they are blackmailing: you don’t eat so you are not allowed to play Nintendo. It’s to calm people down.

What we want is for our rights to be respected.


Sources:

Paris-Luttes

A bas les CRA