ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Quand les « Ch’tis sans papiers » traversent le pays
by Ixchel Delaporte
Translated Monday 5 May 2008, by
Immigration . Having left from Lille on April 19th, thirty-five clandestine workers began a march to Paris for their regularizarion. Covering the event between the Nord-Pas-de-Calais and la Picardie.
On a secondary highway, in the midst of colza fields, thirty-five "Lillois" clandestine workers keep a steady pace. In front, six Thai women hold a large red banner : « Clandestine workers nationwide walk. No to expulsions. Yes to regularization ». They sing to the rhythm of a djembe drum. The cars and the trucks slow down. Their passengers stare inquisitively. Some sound their horns in sign of solidarity, others frown. As for the "clandos", they keep walking, convinced of the necessity of the exposure and of expressing their demands. Bunmee is Thai. She’s been living in France since 1998, in Lille, where she rejoined her brother. In 2005, she joined Lille’s illegal immigrants movement. « My children live in Thailand with my mother. I send them money. I decided to be a part of this march to demand national identity papers in order to work and live decently. One mustn’t remain isolated. We must be united in our struggle. It’s important that we all march together. »
Famara and Sanoussiare are at the tail of the procession. They are Guineans, in France since 2004. A year later, they joined the Illegal Immigrants Committee of the North (CSP 59). « As many others, we are black market construction workers. That’s why we demand legalization », says Famara. The highway is flat, narrow and bordered by fields of green and yellow. In the distance, one can distinguish tiny houses, a few farms. From time to time, a First World War cemetery sprouts alongside the road. Over the megaphone, one of the marchers announces : « Let us respect a minute of silence for those soldiers who fought for our liberty. » The clandestine workers get rapidly back in pace. Their itinerary is closely calculated. They are expected at 4 o’clock P.M. at the "Maison du Peuple" (the People’s Meeting Hall) in Albert by the CGT union delegates of the Méaulte Airbus plant. At each passage through each given village, as in Sars, they make their impression. They come in singing and have their petition signed by the few curious inhabitants having come out on their doorsteps. In the petition that the local people do not hesitate to sign, the marchers demand, among other requests, the regularization of working immigrants with an ID card valid for ten years, putting an end to the man hunt, the policy of reaching a given quota of expulsions and the replacement of the National Identity Ministry by an Equal Rights Ministry.
At each stop, the thirty-five immigrants found a warm welcome. In the Guest Book, of which they are proud, the words are fraternal and generous. Like those of Guy Pottiez, of the trade union of the Renault plant in Douai : « Your combat is ours. We are for the regularization of all immigrants, whether employed or jobless. »
Upon their arrival in Albert, a scheduled rest stop on Monday’s itinerary, signatures were abundant. The march lead towards the People’s Meeting Hall. In the middle of a social conflict, the day before a slow down strike, Dominique Monchy, CGT union delegate at Airbus, devoted a few hours time to express his taking part in the cause. « May your struggle continue and may you overcome ! » he exclaimed in their favour. After some cake and fruit juice, the immigrants felt reinvigorated. The citizens of the surrounding areas came to lend a hand in the organization. Thusly, a union member of SUD Marcel Dekervel, took over in Amiens, where the marchers were able to meet college and high school students, as well as the socialist mayor, Gilles Demailly.
« This march is for you, although you may not even know », proclaimed our "clando" « Ch’ti » workers. Along their way, they will persist in denouncing the stigmatization of foreigners who are judged undesirable in France. Today, they will make their way to Beauvais and make a stop at the Mesnil-Amelot "retention centre" and reclaim its closure.