A few years ago, in Romania, I met one of the members of La Patate Chaude – Violene, who was studying in Cluj at the time. When I was in France earlier this year, I went to Grenoble, where I met Violene again. In March, we visited together the Roma migrants camps, with people coming from Romania, Serbia and Macedonia, whom she works with closely, and in September, I interviewed her for the current G.A.P. issue.
For starters, could you please describe in a few words your activist profile and the projects you are involved in?
Violene: For more than 10 years now, I have been involved in the social struggles in Grenoble. My work focuses a lot on the problems faced by Roma people, coming mostly from Romania. I am a member of La Patate Chaude, a group that has been founded about six years ago, in the aftermath of Sarkozy s speech in Grenoble, a speech that denigrated several social groups, targeting all of them at the same time.
What exactly were the problems of this speech? How did it describe Roma people?
Violene: It said they had no business here in France. Roma, Maghrebis, immigrants, nomads, were to be ”calmed down” when too vocal. What the speech was saying implicitly, was that it would be better to dispose of them, because they had no business here… including the ones that were French. Therefore, we have started this group that initially had the mission to question the public authority concerning the rights of the Roma. These people didn t have a say on a political level, and worse, they were being constantly dehumanized. Then we began squatting, helping people get settled in and doing so in a public manner, in order to increase awareness of their situation. We focused quite a lot on what was going on at the Emergency Shelters, which normally are open to any homeless person between the 1st of November and the 31st of March (actually, they are not really open for everyone, there are some criteria), and on the 31st of March, people are evicted on the streets once more. For two years we have fought so that people could remain in the Winter Shelters, because there are laws concerning the ”continuity of hosting” that see that once a person is admitted into an institution, he or she can no longer be evicted.
So if I understand correctly, there is a national law that conflicts with the local legislation?
Violene: It conflicts with what really goes on here.
When we last met, in March, we visited a Roma camp, with people coming from Romania, Macedonia, Serbia etc. The camp was here, in the city, but from what I hear it was cleared off recently, in July. What was the history of the camp and what really happened there?
Violene: Three years ago, several Macedonian Roma, that had recently begun the procedure for getting asylum, settled in early winter on a terrain at the edge of Esmonin boulevards, in the Southern part of the city. As they learned about this place, more migrants started to come here – there was enough room. At a certain point, a group of migrants in the city were evicted from a squat and they moved to the same spot at the edge of the boulevard (they knew that if they were to occupy other houses they would immediately be evicted by the police, so they went to live in barracks). Thus, the number of people living there by last winter had risen to 400.
I have also seen a guarded tent camp, built by the municipality, close to the barracks.
Violene: Indeed, there was also a camp set by the municipality – a „château” put up after the expulsion of a Roma group from another squat in the city, some two or three years ago. Some of the families living in the barracks had relatives there, which they used to visit. In a way, the fact that this authorized camp was there, determined a lot more people to move in close to it, hoping that they won t get evicted to soon. Additionally, the city hall of Grenoble seemed to be more tolerant than others in the region, and people hoped that the newly elected mayor, ecologist Eric Piol, would keep his electoral promise not to evict people from the camps and the houses that already existed on the city grounds, before he became mayor. Alas, he didn t keep his promise about this particular camp.
What were the stages of the eviction? How much time did the legal procedures take?
Violene: In March, they have announced the eviction of the camp, because of the living conditions (lack of water, electricity, in-salubrity), and the dangers the people were exposed to. They said the barracks could catch fire at any time. Yet they promised to relocate everyone in the camp. They started making social inquiries, to see where could every family be sent. In a way, we were expecting the authorities to relocate them. They appealed to us and to the metropolitan authorities for support in the relocation process. (A metropolis includes several towns/villages and has at least 400 000 inhabitants – the Grenoble metropolis includes 47 towns/villages.)
Who was actually the owner of the terrain where the camp was set?
Violene: There were two lots: one belonged to the General Council (the authority for the whole Isere department) and the other to the Grenoble City Hall. But the City Hall saw fit to relocate the 400 people in different towns and villages in the metropolis, because many of the Roma in the camp had moved there after being evicted from other villages. These villages refused to collaborate, of course.
I see. Let us return to the eviction procedure.
Violene: The City Hall initiated the usual eviction legal action at the Administrative Court and all the families in the camp were subpoenaed. We hired a few lawyers to represent the families in court. We also organized a meeting in front of the Court in early July, on the day of the trial. The decision was in favour of the camp, the court ruled that the City Hall s request was not legitimate and there was no reason for the eviction. Thus, the administrative procedure was stopped. Yet the City Hall chose to go on with its actions, using less time consuming procedures, like eviction on the grounds of jeopardizing the lodger. This kind of eviction can be done in 48 hours. Basically, the people are said to be evicted for their own safety. They were evicted on the 21st of July, with an impressive police arsenal. We had learned earlier about the eviction, so several members of our organization went there early in the morning to support the evicted. A lot of people in the camp were afraid of this, so the night before, only 30-40 people were still there, the ones that were sure to get a relocation, and to whom the authorities had promised this. The others moved in other camps or tried to occupy abandoned houses.
(Please find part one and three of this text here: http://artapolitica.ro/en/2016/09/25/racism-evictions-and-organizing-for-the-housing-rights-of-roma-migrants-in-france-part-i/
and here: http://artapolitica.ro/en/2016/09/27/racism-evictions-and-organizing-for-the-housing-rights-of-roma-migrants-in-france-part-iii/
and the Romanian version here: http://artapolitica.ro/2016/04/25/rasism-evacuari-si-organizare-pentru-drepturile-locative-ale-migrantilor-romi-in-franta/)