A project of the Center for Community Change

New Sanctuary Movement in France – La Nouvelle Resistance

President Sarkozy has set a quota- not for incoming migrants, but for his police department. He wants the police to deport AT LEAST 25,000 immigrants.

Sound familiar? While here in the US churches take the lead in the New Sanctuary Movement to protect immigrants from unjust laws and deportation, it is common citizens in paris and other cities that have joined the “resistance” and have begun giving immigrants sanctuary in their very homes.

Unlike us, the French have a amassed a cultural and social understanding of what it means to be at war on one’s own ground. In war, it isn’t simply the government that acts, but it is individuals- that were a part of the original resistance in World War 2- that made the true difference on the ground [reference: Vichy]. While the “official” French government was folding over and capitulating an effective network of citizens, and individuals, along with government resistors fought back.

For all we may not like about the French (and I get an earful about it, about once a week)- the spirit of citizenship and action is alive and admirable- and draws the question– are we doing enough:

The Guardian – Oct 3, 2007
http://www.guardian.co.uk/france/story/0,,2182383,00.html

Immigration crackdown in France

The French government aims to deport 25,000 illegal immigrants by the
end of the year. But the police snatch squads aren’t having it all
their own way. A new ‘resistance’ has sprung up, inspired by memories
of wartime deportations and shame at the way France treats its ethnic
minorities.

by Angelique Chrisafis

Like most illegal immigrants working in Paris’s textile sweat shops,
nail bars or restaurants, Chulan Liu kept her head down. A 51-year-old
divorcee who left her only son in northern China this summer, she spoke
no French. But she knew the name Nicolas Sarkozy and his order for
police to round up thousands of France’s “sans papiers” – immigrants
with no papers and no right to stay.

When, a fortnight ago, officers knocked at the Paris flat Liu shared
with four Chinese sans papiers, she panicked. She leaped from a window
and hung from an awning by her fingertips, like a scene from a bad
Hollywood film. She hit the pavement awkwardly and died.

Ivan Demsky, 12, was a popular pupil at his French secondary school,
but his Chechen and Russian parents were failed asylum seekers. When
police came to their flat in the northern town of Amiens in August,
Ivan followed his father in escaping via the balcony. He fell four
floors to the street below and into a coma. He has regained
consciousness but is still being treated by doctors. The faces of Liu
and “le petit Ivan” have been broadcast all over France in recent days
and displayed at demonstrations against what the left call France’s
“foreigner-hunt”.

As police struggle to pick up and deport President Sarkozy’s target of
25,000 illegal immigrants by the end of this year, France is searching
its soul. The right says the nation must be firm with its
200,000-400,000 illegal immigrants, many who have been in France for
years. Others on the left say the police swoops on street corners,
metro stations, outside schools and workplaces bring back uncomfortable
memories of the wartime occupation, when a collaborationist government
helped deport more than 75,000 French citizens and Jewish refugees to
the Nazi concentration camps. More than 22,000 people have joined
protest movements and underground networks to hide immigrant children
and prevent their parents’ deportation. They call themselves a new
Resistance.

Marie-Pascale* describes herself as a typical thirty-something bourgeois
Parisian. She is proud of her aristocratic roots and Catholic beliefs.
She wears expensive gold jewelry, has three small children and a good
career, but she has a secret life defying the French state. She and her
husband recently hid two children of sans papiers in their apartment in
gentrified east Paris.

“I’m not an expert in clandestine activity. I had to learn quickly,” she
says. Two west African teenage brothers came to live with them from a
provincial town in rural France. It was easier to hide them in
multiracial eastern Paris, where they could be anonymous. They were
enrolled in a local secondary school and cover stories were invented.
To the neighbours, a missionary had asked the family to look after the
boys. To the boys’ classmates, they were relatives of Marie-Pascale,
who had supposedly been adopted as a child by Africans. The boys were
allowed to leave the apartment only to go to school. “They were banned
from using instant messaging systems online in case they could be
traced, but often when I turned on the computer I would see they had
been on. There had to be give and take, they were under so much
pressure,” she says. “I couldn’t tell my parents-in-law what we were
doing because they are Sarkozy supporters.”

She says she was inspired by the French people who hid Jewish children
during the occupation. “What you are doing would have changed our lives
in 1942,” one French Holocaust survivor told her. Marie-Pascale’s own
conservative family was probably “on the side of collaboration” during
the war, she says. “I fear a sad period of our history is coming back.
But these

children, when they feel excluded in the future, will have learned from
us that French society isn’t monolithic or monocultural. They will
remember people were prepared to defend their place in France.” If the
children who are being sheltered can’t be deported, French law makes it
impossible to expel their parents.

What it takes to be accepted in France is a central question as the
country struggles to keep up with the frenetic first months of
Sarkozy’s presidency. The nation that once openly welcomed foreigners –
and in the 1930s had proportionally more immigrants than the US – is
facing awkward questions not just about its sans papiers, but about its
colonial history and the place of French citizens descended from
immigrants.

Sarkozy, the most popular president since Charles de Gaulle, has gone
further than anyone – including the Socialists – in opening up the
government, appointing what he terms “visible minorities” to senior
positions. For the first time France has a key minister descended from
north Africans – the justice minister Rachida Dati, who grew up on one
of the poor, multiracial housing estates in Chalon-sur-Satne in
Burgundy. Rama Yade, the daughter of a Senegalese diplomat, was
appointed to the foreign office as Sarkozy’s “Condi Rice”. A leftwing
women’s rights campaigner of Algerian origin, Fadela Amara, who still
lives in a council flat, has been appointed to help solve the crisis on
suburban estates.

But campaigners still wonder if this means France is prepared to accept
its black or Muslim citizens. It is nearly 10 years since the country’s
multiracial football team was hailed as a symbol of a rainbow nation,
after Zinidine Zidane and the “bleus” won the 1998 World Cup. But it’s
not just the far-right Jean-Marie Le Pen who complains there are too
many black people in the team. A leading Socialist regional head was
kicked out of the party this year for making the same observation.

Sarkozy believes France is in the grip of an “identity crisis” and must
learn to love itself again. His first step in his quest to reunite
France behind its traditions and erase what he calls the “I hate
France” graffiti on multiracial housing estates was to create a
controversial new government department: the ministry for immigration
and national identity. It was described by the left-leaning newspaper
Libiration as the defining moment of a new era.

After concerns from even those close to him, such as the Auschwitz
survivor Simone Veil, Sarkozy lengthened the name of his ministry to
“immigration, integration, national identity and co-development”. But
more than 200 historians, academics and intellectuals from around the
world, including Britain and the US, signed a petition protesting
against it. Eight French historians opposed to the ministry walked out
of a project to create France’s first museum of immigration, which
opens next week.

They did not object to the separate concepts of immigration or national
identity, but felt that linking the two suggested that anyone whose
foreign ancestors settled in France – be they African, Chinese or
Portuguese – was a threat to the very notion of France.

“How do you define national characteristics?” asked the historian Girard
Noiriel. “You can always say France is the Eiffel Tower, or the flag.
But that’s pointless.” The concept of “national identity”, he said, was
always an excuse to define yourself “against” someone else, “the
dangerous other”.

To the rapper Rost, one of 10 children of Togolese parents, the
ministry for immigration and national identity means “striking fear
into the average French person who can be made to believe that all
France’s problems stem from immigrants.” He fears “two Frances pitted
against each other”.

“All French people with foreign roots, even a few generations back,
should go on strike for a day,” he suggests. “The whole country would
shut down, even the president couldn’t work.”

The ministry is headed by one of Sarkozy’s best friends, Brice
Hortefeux, who says his mission is to help citizens “live together
better”. He has enforced the round-ups of illegal immigrants, however,
insisting that France cannot be seen as a soft touch: “They must know
that coming here is a dead end.” With Sarkozy, he has presented
France’s fifth new immigration law in five years, limiting families’
rights to join immigrants and introducing requirements for French
language and culture lessons. But as the senate debated the bill last
night, Hortefeux faced rebellion in his own ranks. Some politicians,
including on the right, objected to proposed DNA tests to prove links
between immigrants and relatives they want to bring to France. One
senator in Sarkozy’s own party yesterday warned “we know the use Nazis
made of genetics”. Church leaders cautioned against distinguishing
between “good and bad migrants”.

Meanwhile, public protests over deportations have multiplied. Unions at
Air France disagree with immigrants being bundled on to planes,
occasionally with the use of force. Two passengers who put themselves
between police and immigrants being deported on a flight to Mali last
month were pursued in court for “inciting a rebellion” but were
cleared. The sans papiers themselves have marched in demonstrations all
over France. Some have gone on hunger strike. One group squatted in the
car park of the steakhouse chain Buffalo Grill to highlight the extent
to which the restaurant trade relies on illegal workers.

Sarkozy points out that he is the first French president to be “the
mere son of an immigrant”, as he puts it. His father is a minor
Hungarian aristocrat who left for France in the 1940s before the iron
curtain closed, and later became an advertising guru. Sarkozy’s
maternal grandfather was a Jewish doctor from the Greek city of
Salonica. The president has complained about the burden of a
foreign-sounding name. His wife Cicilia is Paris-born but boasts that
she has not a drop of French blood: she is half-Spanish, half
Russian-Romanian.

In a sense, France’s first couple represent their country’s strong
history of accepting immigrants of all kinds. Around one third of
people in France have a foreign relative in their close family tree.
For centuries, the country prided itself on giving asylum to foreigners
from across the world. It still attracts the highest number of asylum
applications of any OECD country. It was not until recent decades that
immigration came to be seen as a problem, bound up with unemployment,
poor housing, and issues of Islam in a secular state.

During his election campaign, however, Sarkozy tapped into unease about
foreigners coming into France and not abiding by the customs of the
republic. He was unashamed about adopting certain rhetoric from the
extreme right. Le Pen’s National Front may have been defeated at the
election, but his ideas live on.

When it was first mooted, Sarkozy’s department of immigration and
national identity won the support of the majority of French people in
polls, although the left now dismisses it as “the ministry of the
round-up and the flag”. The number of immigrants legally settling in
France fell in 2005, but a survey by the National Human Rights
Commission that year found that 55% of French people still thought
there were too many foreigners in the country. One in three admitted
they were racist, an increase of 8% from the previous year. Last year,
51% of French people in a Le Figaro survey felt foreigners who didn’t
love France should get out – an old Le Pen slogan, which Sarkozy
paraphrased in his campaign.

Sarkozy’s racially diverse cabinet members look brilliant on the endless
magazine covers devoted to them. But campaigners insist the appointments
mean nothing unless the lives of ethnic minorities change. What, they
ask, will stop the discrimination against French citizens who are
non-white or have a foreign-sounding name?

In theory, at least, France follows the republican model of integration:
once a person becomes a French citizen, they are equal before a state
that is blind to colour, race and religion. Multiculturalism along the
British model is, to many, a dangerous taboo. It is illegal to count
the number of black people, north Africans and other minorities in
France, or classify people according to ethnicity – all people should
be equally French with no differentiation, the theory goes.

But in practice, the nation is not colour-blind. When France’s black
associations held their first annual meeting last year, American civil
rights activists toured the run-down suburban housing estates and said
discrimination reminded them of life in the US in the 1950s. One survey
this summer found that three out of four companies preferred white to
non-white workers. Black French students with African names have been
advised to change their name to something “more French” when applying
for jobs. Discrimination has reached such a level that last year the
government decreed that companies with more than 50 employees should
use anonymous CVs for recruitment.

Patrick Lozhs, the president of Cran, France’s umbrella group of black
associations, has fought for direct census questions that would
determine the exact ethnic, racial or religious make-up of French
society. Without statistics, he feels discrimination is being swept
under the carpet. But although a clause in the latest immigration law
may allow “diversity statistics”, many of those on the French left are
opposed. More than 40 leading figures launched a petition warning that
counting ethnic minorities would be “dangerous” and lead to
“confrontation” between community groups.

Lozhs says that Sarkozy is at a crossroads: he could voluntarily face
up to discrimination in France, measure and deal with it, or sit back
and wait for the race riots. “He must be brave. I think he knows the
real level of discrimination – but does he want to show it to the
country?”

Religion and the secular state are also often uneasy. In 2004, the
government banned religious symbols such as the hijab in schools. This
week, a court in southern France will consider the case of a driving
instructor sued for refusing to give lessons to a Muslim woman because
she wore a headscarf. He said the scarf would impair her vision and
initially won his case, although it is now subject to an appeal. In the
Vosges, in eastern France, another court is to consider a case against
the owner of a rural holiday cottage. She refused entry to a family who
had made a reservation and driven 500km, stating the women should first
remove their headscarves. The owner’s lawyer said she was simply
defending the secular state and came from a feminist perspective.

The debate over national identity has deepened the festering sore of the
2005, where young people who felt discriminated against, marginalised
and packed away in high-rise suburban ghettos expressed themselves in
the worst violence for 40 years. In three weeks, more than 9,000 cars
and buses were torched, dozens of public buildings and business were
burned, 3,000 people were arrested and ?160m (#110m) of damage was done
across France, from Paris to Lyon, Normandy to Toulouse. Many on the
estates fear trouble could easily flare up again.

One recent Saturday on Les Bosquets estate, beyond the Piriphirique
ring-road that serves as Paris’s moat against the suburban high-rises,
teenagers had torched some wheelie bins for a laugh and firemen were
putting out the flames. Rats darted from the weeds as teenage
joy-riders roared up and down on motorbikes. The tower-blocks with
broken windows and piss-smelling entrances bore a rainbow of grafittied
variations on “Fuck the police.”

Hamadi Diallo, 22, stood at a bus stop. He said he was proud to be
French. His parents arrived from Mali in the 1960s, his father worked
packing TV sets in Darty, the French equivalent of Argos. “My parents
taught us to work hard,” he says. “I’m lucky – I was only unemployed
for a year before I got a job in a garage. My sister has two diplomas
in public administration but can only get work in McDonald’s.”

He knows that Sarkozy has proudly repeated that wayward youths on the
housing estates were “racaille” – a word that translates as rabble, but
is perceived round here to mean scum. “It tarnishes everyone. But it’s
best not to think about it, because if you did, you’d give up on
yourself, you’d lie down and die”.

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