Undocumented African migrants in France have joined forces to protest against deportations and for legal status for all African immigrants in the country. United under the name Collectif La Chapelle Debout or the Black Vest, the migrant support group stormed the Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris on Sunday demanding to see the country’s Prime Minister Edouard Philippe and the management of Air France.
The about 500 African migrants filled the Terminal 2 of France’s biggest airport as riot police looked on while they chant “France does not belong to the French! Everyone has a right to be here!”.
They reportedly prevented passengers from boarding and also refused to leave the airport until their demands of changing the country’s asylum policy and giving all of them permanent legal status were met.
“Air France should stop any financial, material, logistical or political participation in deportations… We have targeted Air France, and other actions will follow,” the migrant support group said in an official statement.
“It is not by chance that we find ourselves here. This is not a symbolic challenge. This place is the back end and the front line of the war against all undocumented and illegal migrants.
“For several months we have been organizing ourselves and we have won many victories. Today, we are launching a campaign against fear and shame and for equality, dignity, justice and their concrete application: PAPERS FOR ALL,” the group said on Facebook.
The Collectif La Chapelle Debout shared videos of the protest on their Facebook page which showed the riot police trying to control the chanting crowd running to occupy various parts of the airport.
According to local newspaper Le Parisien, the group was later met by an Air France delegation but the outcome of the meeting is still unknown. The airport terminal was shut down on that day but flights were not disrupted, the airport confirmed.
The ‘Black Vest’ protest follows that of France’s ‘Yellow Vest’ protests which started more than six months ago over fuel tax reforms. It has since been held every Saturday and some 4,000 people have been injured.
There is a growing campaign to kick out undocumented migrants from Europe and the French government has been accused of unfairly treating migrants especially those from Africa who are seeking asylum.
On his visit to Africa last year, France’s President Emmanuel Macron promised to help Africans and called for the rethinking of the migration crisis that has seen a number of people risk their lives to reach Europe.
In an interview with France 24, President Macron called for a change in France’s perception of Africa. “The first thing is that France should have is a different view of Africa, that Africa is not viewed as a land of worry, immigration and terrorism, but a land of vitality, of culture,” he said.
However, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reports indicate that underage migrants end up all alone in the streets of Paris without shelter and security as the state does not treat them like children.
The adults are also denied work and can’t access emergency services including the hospitals until their immigration processes are completed.
France is the former colonial master of many African countries and has in the past tried to assimilate Africans into the French system. 14 Francophone African countries are still tied to the French economy through the Franc Zone which ensures the use of the franc of the African Financial Community (CFA) within the former colonies in West and Central Africa.
Until 1946, the major policy of French colonial governance in Africa was Assimilation which was a policy to turn the natives of Africa into French men by educating them in the language and French culture and subsequently making them French citizens and equals. Today, it is a different story.
Early this year, Italian deputy prime minister who is also labour and economy minister, Luigi di Maio, accused France of fuelling migration by continuously colonizing dozens of African countries leaving them impoverished.
“The EU should impose sanctions on France and all countries like France that impoverish Africa and make these people leave, because Africans should be in Africa, not at the bottom of the Mediterranean,” he was quoted by the BBC.
“If people are leaving today it’s because European countries, France above all, have never stopped colonising dozens of African countries,” added the leader of the Five Star Movement (M5S) which is a member of the right-wing ruling coalition that has been described as racist for its strong stance against migrants. Di Maio’s statement angered France.