Tunisian migrants and activists occupy Paris

With a series of important events over the last 5 days, the city of Paris has been witness to the material transnationalisation of the radical democratic movements that began this spring in Maghreb and the Middle East.

Thursday, May 28th between 300-400 Tunisian exiles arrived in Paris, France. After having travelled for over 45 days — from Tunisia to the small Italian island of Lampadusa where they had been initially held by Italian authorities and overcoming the French government’s attempt to block trains entering France from Italy — this community of migrants made a makeshift camp at a small park on the exterior of the French Capital.

Almost immediately, the police welcomed these young migrants — predominantly young males no older than 25 — with mass arrests, militarily invading the Villette Park where they were staying and launching a citywide manhunt. Between Friday the 29th and Saturday the 30th over 100 arrests were made, including at least 4 minors.

Following the arrival and persecution of the Tunisian migrants, Parisian activists — notably the Front de libération populaire tunisien (FLPT) Coordination des Intermittents et Precairs (CIP) and Knowledge Liberation Front (KLF) began organizing in order to find safe havens and supply basic needs (food, shelter and medicines) for the new arrivals. Representatives from leftwing parties and unions also began concerning themselves with the urgent situation.

However, after several grassroots meetings, the Tunisian community made clear that they did not want any (colonialist) charity from French organizations but rather a stable and safe place where they could exercise their right to self-organize. They vehemently insisted against any political manipulation of their situation by the institutional left.

A last minute decision to participate in the traditional demonstration for the 1st of May was made in order to bring attention to their situation and to gather the Parisian community of Tunisian together.

The demonstration was a huge success. Hundreds of Tunisian migrants created the most lively and politically decisive blocks of the otherwise traditional march. The block was lead by a huge white banner that read “No Police Nor Charity: A place to organize” signed by “The Tunisians from Lampedusa to Paris”. Carrying ad hoc placards and signs that read “Ben Alì, Murabak, Sarkozy…” and “We’ve come to help you do the same” the message was clear: the Maghreb wind of radical democratic change has arrived in Europe.

Despite continuing police repression and the attempts of the institutional left to cooptate the burgeoning movement, on the night of May 1st well over 200 migrants and activists (now officially organized as the Collective of Tunisians from Lampedusa) occupied a building in the 19th arrondissement of Paris. Although the police arrived almost immediately at the scene and attempted to enter the building and arrest the occupants, an overnight sit-in outside and physical resistance inside has so far managed to prevail over any eviction.

Currently, the City of Paris is now trying conduct negotiations between the occupants and the national government and police. Tonight an activist meeting has been called to continue this new mobilization. But one thing in sure: this autonomous, transnational and grassroots movement has no intention of giving up their right to self-organize nor will they fall into the trap of political manipulation by the institutional left.

Jason Francis Mc Gimsey