France : accounts from the inside of the Detention Centres

Accounts of the movements in the Retention Centres of Mesnil Amelot, Vincennes and elsewhere.

Information sent to the zpajol mailing-list mainly through the contact

Refusing to go into the bedrooms, refusing to be counted, refusing to eat, bedrooms burned, altercations with the police. These daily acts of protest are reactions to the way the Centre is organised and to the checks and humiliations that occur there. They are endless, unlimited. Each new arrival carries them on. Only isolation and repression will manage to stop the Vincennes revolt. But it’ll carry on if we continue telephoning and visiting the detainees regularly, and giving information about what is happening inside. It’ll continue if we go on demonstrating in front of the Centre. It’ll continue if the initiatives of the various groups, associations, and individuals increase and multiply (events, posters, stickers, etc). It’ll last if the protest spreads to other centres, to other towns, to society as a whole. It’ll last and spread if we protest with them.

We continue telephoning the Detention Centre of Vincennes on a daily basis.

It has been ascertained that last week, in one of the bungalows, about 20 people refused to eat for at least three days. Nobody was told about this. We have never managed to get in contact with these people. We called the phone booths several times. But each time we received the same answers: «Everything’s fine here. Everybody’s eating. The police are behaving normally with us.» Fear of the police, or answers dictated by them? We’ll never know. What is sure is that the authorities running the Centre would rather nothing leaked out. They organise guided tours for the media, to make us believe that nothing is happening inside. The hunger strikers will stop before the silence that surrounds them. But this does not mean an end to the struggle. The media only draws our attention to events that have been clearly identified, such as in December when 150 people in Vincennes and Mesnil-Amelot announced a hunger strike. But resistance in the Detention Centres is a daily event. Resisting consists of meeting to talk when policemen and their video cameras are watching you. It means protesting when the food is off. It means lodging a complaint when the police beat you up. It means shouting together to try and get an ill person permission to see a doctor. And this resistance happens every day of the year.

Friday January 11 2008 Vincennes

The detainees start telling us about when the journalists from Envoyé Spécial (a French weekly TV documentary programme) came to the Retention Centre in Vincennes. The detainees wanted to tell them about the way in which they had been arrested, the conditions in which they are held and to denounce the statistics policy of which they are the victims. But the «special envoys» from TF1 did not seem interested by what they were saying. They apparently told the detainees that they were not there for that. The major gave them a tour of the centre, they took some pictures and left. They carry on holding meetings.

They denounce the way in which the police arbitrarily give them a nationality, the way the sub-Saharan detainees without passports are presented to the Embassies of Guinea, Mali or the Senegal, all of which deliver passes without proof of nationality. They denounce illegal arrests in front of Embassies. When we asked them about care, the detainees replied that the doctors gave them the same aspirin tablet whether it was a case of stomach-ache or an irritation. Inside the Centre, repeated searches continue. The day before yesterday, they were given food with a sell-by date of 25 December 2007.

Sunday January 13 2008 Vincennes

The detainees tell us that the day before two people were transferred to the Administrative Retention Centre (CRA) of Vincennes. Both had had dizziness fits and the firemen had intervened and taken them away. When the detainees asked after them, the major refused to answer. A detainee describes a typical day in the Vincennes Detention Centre.

Every morning we are searched.
We go down to the refectory at about 9. There’s no hot water for the coffee.
When we announce this, the policemen reply that it’s not their job, that they’re just there to keep watch on us.
They don’t want to deal with that.
At lunch today, we were given white beans with a sell by date of January 5.
When we pointed this out, they replied that they weren’t there to look at dates. That they didn’t want to know.
We told the CIMADE (French humanitarian organisation, allowed into detention centres) who wrote a text bearing witness to this.
During the day we can move around but we have to stay in the bedrooms.
When we want to have a rest, the police want to search our rooms.
At night, they’re out in the corridor.
When we have to go to the toilet they follow us and leave the door open.
They provoke us.
They disturb us at night by putting the alarm on between midnight and one o’clock so that we can’t sleep.
Despite all this, we must get together to talk.

We mustn’t give up.

Everybody has to agree to start the struggle up again.

During our talks with the detainees of the Vincennes Detention Centre, we pay particular attention to details: two per room, the water’s cold, the alarm goes off every night between midnight and one o’clock, yesterday the food was past its sell-by date, today there’s no room in the Centre and two people have to sleep on the floor, etc... Our wish is not to point out the detention conditions in order to get them improved. No improvement is possible in this place other than its destruction. The details help us to understand the nature of such a place. It helps us to understand that the wish of the administration goes over and above the strict application of the law, that the system, where foreigners and concerned, is part of the plan to break, humiliate, morally and physically weaken men and women.

Tuesday January 15 2008 Vincennes

I’m tired.
We have no communication with the outside.
Nothing of what happens here is known outside.
There’s no hot water in the showers.
The water tank is not big enough for everybody.
If you can’t wash that won’t do at all.
We can’t wash our things.
There’s no heating in certain bedrooms.
But the major couldn’t care less.
There are 250 people in the Centre.
We’re disgusted.
People who haven’t been into the centre don’t know what goes on here.
The police take the media to where they’ve done the place up, to show the French on TV, on the radio, that everything’s fine, that we’re calm, quiet and that they’re looking after us well. But it’s the opposite.
Our protest movement has had no result.
We continue talking together.
We hold meetings between the two bungalows: one person goes to the fence to tell the others what’s happening in the other bungalow, and vice versa.
Nobody from the Cimade wants to go upstairs to the bedrooms to see what the situation is or our problems.
The appeals they make change nothing.
Because I try to organise things, lots of cops are against me.
When I talk to the others, they interrupt and ask what I’m talking about, what I’m up to again.

Wednesday January 16 2008 Vincennes

We had a meeting.
We talked to try and start the protest up again.
Lots of people are feeling low.
Some came to see us to ask for lawyers.
We mustn’t give up.
There are 40 people the Embassies haven’t given passes to.
They wouldn’t recognise them. They have to stay 32 days in the Centre any way. We protest against this.
If we don’t get an answer by Friday, we’ll start up the movement again.
Yesterday they brought two guys back.
There wasn’t any more room, no more bedrooms, no more mattresses.
They had to sleep on the floor in the corridor.
The centre is full, but they keep bringing more people.
They send the new ones in saying: «Go and see your colleagues! They’ll find you room!»
If we complain they say: «We’ll see tomorrow.»
I haven’t slept.
I’m unwell.
I’ve been to see the doctor.
He’s given me some medicine to sleep.
When a cop’s looking for a guy, he calls him over the loud speaker instead of going to get him. Every morning the loud speaker wakes us up. This morning I got woken at 5.

Thursday January 17 2008 Vincennes

At midnight we get a phone call from someone we’ve been in contact with since the beginning of the events at the Detention Centre of Vincennes.

The police came to see me to say that tomorrow morning at 7 they’ll take me before the judge.

Which judge?

I’ve been here for 28 days and I don’t have to go before any judge. They want to deport me without telling me. I’m sure. They haven’t even put my name up on the departures board


Friday January 18 2008

At 6am she calls us back.

I’m at Roissy. They came to get me at 5am this morning. They lied to me about the destination and the time.

She refuses to go on board. She’s put into police custody. She’s taken before the court the following day. Her lawyer discovers a nullity. Her case is to be postponed. In the end she’s freed under legal restrictions pending trial. She could face three months in prison and a three year ban on entering the territory.

Saturday January 19 Vincennes

During the demonstration the detainees went outside. They hung sheets on the barbed wire. The same evening the police went into the bedrooms to carry out a search and turn over the mattresses.

Tuesday January 22

 Hunger strike at the Palaiseau Detention Centre. This morning, 22 January 2008, twenty sans papiers people (of the 30 present) detained at the CRA of Palaiseau went on hunger strike with the aim of gaining their freedom.


During the big demonstration on Saturday, the police filmed those who were on the fence. I took out a sheet that we hung up on the fence. The CRS (French police) went into the Centre. They searched the bedrooms and forced us back inside.
There’s a Tunisian who’s refusing to eat. The doctor said he would not treat him if he refused to eat.
We can’t sleep. We’re constantly being woken up by the loud speakers. They call us for counting, for visits, for deportation, when we are to go before a judge. It never stops.
There’s no direct access to the Cimade. We have to go through two doors guarded by police.

Wednesday January 23

 Nantes. People on hunger strike at the Nantes Detention Centre.
What happens to them depends on our solidarity too!
Assembly Wednesday 23 January at 5.30 pm in front of the Detention Centre (Central Police
Station, Waldeck Rousseau Square in Nantes.)


Last night, at midnight, we refused to be counted and to go to our rooms. We tried
sleeping outside. Everyone was shouting FREEDOM. We tried to speak to the chief of police but
he called the CRS. The police were saying: «Get out of the way! We don’t want you here!»
One policeman said to me: «This is my home!» They said to us: «If you don’t go back
in, we’ll force you in.» They forced us to go back to the rooms by pushing us with helmets.
We all talk. But it’s difficult. They keep watch on us all the time with video cameras.

They watch us night and day.
We have to do demonstrations outside. It does us good. We go out. We scream. If we
demonstrate once, twice, three times a week, they’ll understand.
Tonight some guys set fire to their rooms by burning some papers. Firemen arrived to
put out the fire. The police didn’t arrest anyone. Perhaps they want the Centre to burn

Thursday January 24

Today we refused to eat. We threw the food on the floor of the refectory. The police
film those that revolt. They separate them and put them in the other building.
Today they took
two people. Amongst them there’s a Tunisian who hasn’t eaten for 10 days. He’s lost 9 kilos.
Today they deported an Algerian, tomorrow they’ll deport some Chinese. In the evening, they
write up on a board the name, destination, time of departure and airport of the people who are
going to be deported the following day. Sometimes it happens that people get deported without
their names appearing on the board. That’s often the case for those that kick up a fuss. In the
morning the police come and get them and take them to the airport.
Yesterday evening they closed
the telephone cabins at midnight just after the upheaval. They only opened them again this

We manage to get hold of the person who’s on hunger strike and was transferred during the day.

Yesterday 4 policemen jumped on me. They tore my jacket. They told me I wouldn’t treated as long as I refused to eat. They took me to another building.
I haven’t eaten for 18 days. I’ve lost 10 kilos. I don’t eat because the food isn’t hallal.
In any case I don’t want to feed myself. I just drink water and coffee. Again today the doctor refused to give me medicine if I didn’t eat. I want to leave the Centre. I want to be free.
The Cimade refused to deal with my appeal. They said the 24 hour time limit was up, although this isn’t true.

Friday January 25 Vincennes

 6.30pmA detainee tells us that they set fire to one of the bedrooms, that the firemen arrived and that the majority of detainees have refused to eat.

 9pm A detainee tells us that Brard (Deputy Mayor of Montreuil) came into the Detention Centre. He promised the detainees to bring them biros and paper so that they could describe their situation. «He told us that we had to respect the policemen. He told us that they weren’t responsible and that decisions came from higher up. People answered that they weren’t trying to get the conditions of their detention improved but wanted their freedom.»

Saturday January 26 Vincennes


A first fire was lit in the toilets. Then two bedrooms burned. We refused to eat. We barred access to the refectory by blocking the doors. The police asked us to let those who wanted to eat go in. In the end they moved us. But only a minority went to eat.

 During assembly (3pm)

The police blocked the access to the footbridge from which we can see you. But we can still hear you.


About 60 CRS came into the Centre. They searched all the rooms. They searched us.
They found a lighter. They transferred two people to the other building.

Sunday January 27 Vincennes 3pm

Today in Building Two a fire was set off in a bedroom for 4 people. The firemen came in to put the fire out. They shut us in the refectory. Twenty policemen came to fetch four people violently. They are being held in custody for having set fire to the Centre


Tuesday January 29

 Vincennesliste zpajol A Tunisian detainee cut his veins; he was transported to the Hotel Dieu Hospital. Four detainees are in solitary confinement: the reason being that they talk too much to the «agitators» outside! The one who’s in solitary had got cross since, while he was waiting for my visit, the cops announced that my visit had been cancelled. He got cross, so straight to «isolation», his mobile confiscated. I did in fact wait four hours outside to see him without being allowed in. He was handcuffed and he was slapped hard. As there are surveillance cameras, this detainee said he would file a complaint. The major (the only contact with the media and the MPs) came to see him, saying that all that wasn’t anything to worry about, that he must understand etc etc that he, the «intellectual», had to be protected from the agitators and detainees who were protesting. He can no longer get in touch with the other detainees, no more coffee machine. Four detainees are apparently going before the court and will be transferred to police custody. Considered as leaders and as having set fire to the rooms.

 Waldeck Police station in Nantes. One of the hunger strikers was freed on 25/1; another, considered one of the leaders, was transferred to Rennes; a Turkish friend, Mohammed Aslan is bravely continuing with his hunger strike, started on 20 January. More than ever support is needed, and unlike what has been said, the detainees hear us, when we shout slogans to the rhythm of the corrugated iron from the building site. This Monday evening, 28/1, there were only about 20 of us: please don’t hesitate to join us, those of you from Nantes of course but also from St Nazaire or Angers like us! From 5.30pm onwards, EVERY EVENING, in front of the Administrative Retention Centre (ARC) at the Waldeck-Rousseau police station.

 Rennes. At the St Jacques de la Lande CRA a hunger strike has started; our sans papiers friends fight back the only way they can.

Traduction : Amelia G.