Speak out: Solidarity with people on the move

A network of solidarity exists among and alongside those who move, and stay, without permission. Hazel Healy profiles three initiatives.

Two people hold placards as part of a demonstration for solidarity, unity, dignity and rights for all in Hamburg, 2018
A demonstration for solidarity, unity, dignity and rights for all. By Rasande Tyskar, under a Creative Commons License

France: The Gilets Noirs

‘Is it fair that Europe walks as it wants in Africa but not the opposite?’

Like the trailblazing Sans Papiers before them, undocumented migrants in France have recently come out of the shadows to demand citizenship (‘regularization’). ‘We want to be as powerful as the Gilets Jaunes,’ as one member Kanoute puts it.

Since launching in November 2018, the Gilets Noirs, who are drawn mostly from Francophone Africa, have held high-profile occupations of Charles de Gaulle airport and the Pantheon, risking arrest and deportation. But Kanoute says that ‘to stay silent’ and remain exploited is more dangerous still.

They believe France owes them a historical debt: ‘All the countries of the “Third World” are directly or indirectly colonies of the West. So, everyone should be able to come.’

Belgium: Citizen Platform

‘Once you help, you cannot close your eyes’

In the summer of 2016 refugees were camped out in their hundreds in Maximilian Park, Brussels. In the early days, residents responded with compassion and pragmatism, taking people into their homes, preparing food, setting up classrooms and counselling services.

Then, as police harassment intensified – with raids, intimidation and physical violence – the Citizen Platform stepped up to defend the people it had championed as members of its own community, giving legal support and collecting evidence of abuse. The Platform’s powerful interventions – they could call on a network of 6,000 people to foil camp raids – made them a target, with their members put on trial for ‘human smuggling’.

The group avoids reference to ‘refugee rights’ and supports everyone. Their call, they insist, is simply for a ‘dignified Belgium’.

Toronto: Solidarity City

‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’

In 2013, Toronto council voted 37-3 to become the first Canadian city formally to allow all residents to access services – housing, health, education – regardless of their immigration status.

Hyper-diverse Toronto was adopting a more radical version of ‘sanctuary cities’ in the US, which limit co-operation with national immigration rules to protect their undocumented residents and where city officials operate a ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy on immigration status. Toronto is still far from a safe haven for all – there are failings and caveats.

But migrant justice groups say the city’s symbolic title helps to build momentum, as they fight on to hold it accountable. Perhaps the most interesting aspect to this civic disobedience is that it looks beyond citizenship as the basis for entitlement and belonging.