Migrant activists occupy Paris Pantheon to demand more state support

Les Gilets Noirs said they wanted to speak to French prime minister Édouard Philippe

French police officers walk in Pantheon in Paris as undocumented migrants occupy the landmark to ask for the regularisation of their situation, on July 12, 2019. / AFP / Kenzo TRIBOUILLARD
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Hundreds of migrant activists occupied the Pantheon in Paris on Friday afternoon to demand greater state support for undocumented migrants, including immigration papers and accommodation for those who are not housed.

The pro-migrant groups, who call themselves ‘Les Gilets Noirs’ (The Black Jackets), said on Twitter that they were occupying the historic church because they wanted to speak to the French prime minister, Edouard Philippe, after letters sent to him by the group were left unanswered. Les Gilets Noirs  have engaged in actions in the French capital to expose meagre living conditions for asylum seekers in France, as well as police repression, hunger and homelessness.

In a letter addressed to the Italian prime minister, the group asked Mr Philippe to give papers to all undocumented migrants in France.

"We occupy [the pantheon] because there are 200,000 empty homes in Paris and we sleep under the interchanges of the ring road,” the activist group said on Twitter.

"We are undocumented, voiceless, faceless for the French Republic. We come to the graves of your great men to denounce your profanations, those of the memories of our comrades, our fathers and mothers, our brothers and sisters in the Mediterranean, in the streets of Paris, in the homes and the home prisons,” the group added.

Unlike many European countries, migration is steadily rising in France, many migrants coming from eastern Europe and CIS countries, as well as the Middle East and north Africa. Since January 2019, over 10,000 refugee applications have been filed in France by Albanians and Georgians alone.

The spike in France comes despite a downturn in the numbers of migrants making the tough journey across the Mediterranean to Europe, mostly from war-torn Libya. Arrivals along the central Mediterranean route dropped 83% to around 3,200 in the first half of this year. Tunisians, Pakistanis and Algerians made up the bulk of those fleeing.  Some 1,150 arrivals were registered in June, about the same as May.

On Friday, International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) have called on the EU to implement some measures aimed at assisting people trapped in Libya or at risk of dying on the Mediterranean Sea. One of the measures involves rebooting a program of organised sea rescues.