French migrant hunger strikers communique: ‘No Liberty, No Equality, No Fraternity for us’

Immigration Detention Centres, Centre de Retention Administratif or CRA in French. Let’s call them what they are: prisons for people that have committed the “serious crime” of not having the correct visa, or of not having been born in the right country. In a Europe, which likes to wax lyrical about the importance of freedom of movement, we often prefer to ignore the fact that that freedom, as well as a host of other rights, only applies to people with a passport to the right place. While we in the UK condemned the US building a wall/fence on its Mexican border, we forgot that the British and French government were building a 3-metre high concrete barrier around the port of Calais, funded by taxes from both countries. 

In the spring of 2019, riots and a hunger strike in the CRA of Oissel near to Rouen led to a partial destruction of the centre. Many prisoners were transferred to another CRA at Renne where a protest against attempts to forcibly deport someone led to an attempt to set the place on fire. This autumn, prisoners in two prisons for undocumented migrants, Palaiseau and Plaisir, (both in Ile-De-France) started a hunger strike on Friday the 20th and Saturday 21st September. An earlier hunger strike was declared in July. What follows is a translation of the supporting text and letters written by people on the inside describing conditions and why they are striking. The original text can be found here.

“Since Friday 20th September, prisoners at the administrative detention centres at Plaisir (in department 78 just outside of Paris) are on hunger strike to protest against the arbitrary interruption of visits and healthcare. Living conditions inside are appalling, and prisoners are isolated [from the outside], but the struggles on the inside are numerous and ongoing. 

During the night of the Saturday, a team of BAC [Brigade Anti Criminale- Frances notorious cowboy cops in plain clothes] entered the CRA with dogs, threatening and beating the prisoners involved in the struggle in an attempt to break the hunger strike. One person was put in an isolation cell for the night, another taken into police custody and then returned to the CRA. But they remain determined, the strike continues. 

For those who remain in the outside to offer a maximum solidarity!

The following comes from their communication released Sunday the 22nd September:

“It’s been three days since we started the hunger strike. 

Here the police commit many abuses, too many. They treat people like dogs.

They make visits [to the dormitories] whenever they want, and sometimes they take people who have done nothing, handcuff them and put them in isolation cells all night. Even seeing the doctor is complicated, they refuse everything. There are those amongst us who have a dislocated foot, and they won’t even take them to hospital.

Sometimes they turn off the surveillance cameras to beat people. Last night (Saturday 21st) at midnight they turned up with at least 30 police officers with truncheons and pepper spray to force us to return to our rooms.

We’re not allowed to smoke, or hang out in the corridors, or watch TV after midnight.

Everyday they wake us up at 7am for breakfast as if we were in the army.

They refuse us access to beard trimmers and razors, and the windows are barred 24 hours a day.

The beds are no good, they make noise all night, and we can’t get to sleep.

And in the night they come through every 30 minutes, it wakes people up because the doors make noise, we don’t have any pillows.

It’s not acceptable, honestly, the state of the centre is filthy, really disgusting.

And often when the police arrive, they say really racist things to us.

And there are others amongst us that they tie up head to foot, put a helmet on the head, tape up the mouth and force them onto the plane like a parcel.

And there is also the accusation that when we give them our case files they don’t send them to judges or our lawyers, that’s not acceptable either.

There are also people who come to the centre, stay for a day, don’t even see a judge and are freed, when others don’t even have the right to see an administrative judge, and that’s not acceptable either.

No Liberty, No Equality and No Fraternity for us, that’s the truth”

In parallel, since Saturday 21st September there has been a new struggle in the migrants’ prison at Palaiseau. Always the same problems, as well as being locked up and the possibility of getting deported at any moment, it’s also the group of, especially violent and contemptuous cops.

There was already a hunger strike in the same place in July.

Strength and Solidarity with them!

“The problems always come from the same group.

Yesterday a guy was eating. They looked at him, speaking amongst themselves; One of them said to his colleague “Look at him, he eats like a dog”.

They’re always like that, the looks, the putting on pressure. All that up to physical violence. There’s one of them that’s tattooed, he’s got even more methods [to create problems], sometimes he comes into the refectory and shouts at someone who hasn’t eaten yet “Oi, you’ve already eaten, get out of here!” It’s the same group who hit a guy who was being deported not long ago. The other group are calmer.

Yesterday we went in to eat. The guards looked at us like dogs, we asked why they were looking at us like that, and they replied rudely to us. Then everyone threw down their tray and voila, hunger strike. And still this evening, no one ate.

As for as the state is concerned, we aren’t human any more. We are quotas. We make statistics for their politicians to say to “the French” that they are doing something [about the migrant crisis]. Now there you go.

Many have been restrained since the first plane, it’s important to say. There’s a guy that on the 89th day [detention in a CRA is restricted to 90 days] they handcuffed and sent back to his country.

The three months are designed to be psychological torture, 45 days was hard enough, but now…We can’t work here, and we have no revenue. We only eat reheated, disgusting industrial food.

When it’s this team, nothing goes well, even the medical team screws around more.

There are problems at every level: even the coffee machine seldom works, and after that, there’s nothing left. When it’s hot, there’s no cold water. There’s nothing. Sometimes the OFII is absent from Thursday to Sunday. So we’re all in trouble: no cigarettes, no sweet treats for four days.

They put pressure on us here. Some do the round trip CRA-Prison-CRA because they can’t be deported.

While we were writing this communique, one guy fainted.

We know that there is a hunger strike at the CRA of Plaisir as well. That’s good.”

Since the publication of this article and the end of the hunger strike conditions at both Palaiseau and Plaisir remain appalling. Prisoners at Palaiseau were given a few concessions, but there has reportedly been much repression at Plaisir. From both CRA prisoners have been deported back to countries of origin or transferred to other CRA such as Mesnil, where the situation is apparently calm at this point. At the CRA at Vincennes, where conditions are also terrible, there have been at least two escape attempts over the last few months. 

Prisoners at the CRA of Vincennes have also written letters where they explain living conditions in the centre.

The letters are published here (in French).