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July 15, 2019

Black vests


July 15, 2019

Migrants and refugees have been at the heart of European politics in the last decade – but the debate around refugees has taken place between policymakers, liberal and right-wing politicians and the international humanitarian groups. The most crucial voice – that of the refugees themselves – has been missing as the debate around their future takes place. Now, in Paris, refugees have begun to organise and make their voice heard. On Friday, around 700 undocumented African workers occupied Paris’s historic Pantheon building and chanted ‘black vests’, while demanding a right to reside in France. The chants referred to the ‘yellow vest’ movement that has questioned growing social inequality in France. The response of the French police was to forcibly evacuate the area and charge at the protesters. At least 37 protesters were arrested; they are now at risk of deportation. The protests are part of a larger set of protests around Europe against anti-immigration policies. Thousands have marched in Italy and Germany against the growing anti-immigration policies of European governments.

This tide of protests will need to grow stronger to form a substantive challenge to the Far-Right in Europe. The French protestors are demanding a right to live as well as to housing in the country. The protest came after a refugee encampment was cleared in Paris this week. The French Far-Right politician, Marine Le Pen, tweeted that the undocumented workers had no right to ‘occupy a great place of the Republic’. But the immigrants are rejecting the notion that being undocumented means that you cannot have a political voice. Instead, they are claiming their right to be in France as both humans and workers. In addition, the protests mean that refugees themselves are entering the debate about their fate and will not bow down easily.

France has more recently closed its border with Italy over concerns about illegal immigration. Overall, European policies around illegal migration and refugees are becoming stricter. Housing migrants is a serious crisis, but the response should not be to tear down migrant housing. The state in fact needs to start providing accommodation for them. The Black Vests protests are showing serious intent by refugees and illegal migrants not to let these states trample over their rights. It will be important that these protests continue to pressure Europe to change its anti-migration policies.

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