Ile-Saint-Denis (France): The Pavillon Solidaire, solidarity with refugees

Solidarity, not just a word

What do you see when you take a walk around L’Ile Saint Denis – along the river banks, under the bridges, through the squares, the park? Everywhere desperate people hiding in tents, in flimsy constructions of plastic and wood, in the bushes, in any hole they can find. Hiding from the freezing cold, and hiding from the police with their batons, dogs and choking gas.

Over the weeks before the occupation we checked inside the Pavillon Solidaire several times, we wanted to be completely sure no one was using it. What did we find? The doors left open, rubbish piled up, mould growing everywhere, building work unfinished, foul stench of food left to rot, the garden clogged up with leaves, the building literally rotting.

These days it’s a cliché to say we’re living in scenes from a zombie movie. But that’s just what it seemed like, an abandoned house whose inhabitants have fled the apocalypse. A house that could provide a shelter from the cold and fear outside – at least for a few people, at least for a little while.

So we occupied the building. Now we’re cleaning it up, fixing things, and organising with our neighbours. It is a shelter for some people through this hard winter. But also, we want to make sure it isn’t abandoned again, but in the next months it really becomes open and alive again: a social, cultural and organising space for the neighbourhood.

Should we have waited for the end of the COVID crisis? Should we have waited for the authorities to do something?

To us, it seemed clear: on the one hand, you have people freezing under a bridge, on the other, a building literally left to rot. But the official world has a different logic involving regulations, registrations, budgets, subventions, political deals.

Following the official logic, a lot of things are possible. You can have shopping malls like Marques Avenue, you can build so-called Ecoquartiers (yet more high-price concrete apartments, with a few extra trees), you can organise the multi-billion dollar world spectacle of the Olympics. And all these big-profit projects keep going despite COVID. Yet you can’t do anything to help people sleeping in the park or begging for coins in the street. That’s just how the world is, it’s “beyond our control”.

We refuse to accept this official logic. We don’t want to live in a zombie world. We have different ideas of how the world can be. We can bring empty buildings back to life, bring people out of the cold, get together with our neighbours, help each other, learn from each other, and start to change things.

But then we can’t just sit and wait for others to act, we have to take the initiative. Solidarity isn’t just a word – it comes to life with action.

Political Encounters

Romantic Paris with its violent linings where lie bodies as if they had never dared to venture across lands, mountains, rivers, and people to penetrate borders impenetrable in pursuit of safety. Not life with all its glory is sought; just the hope to live. Not dreams of better, greater, bigger are had; merely the fight to survive. Not hopes of futures radically different from that conceived by colonial ambitions, which continue to take while denying those from whom all rights to life are taken. Where is the land luscious about which the poets rejoice? Afghanistan; the mystical. There is only war. War that devastates. War that colours our streets in bodies and blood. From whence bodies ran; to thence bodies return. Paris, romantic Paris, where bodies line streets as if they had never escaped. What hopes they desire? To live. Just to live. Of what dignity can we speak when even the basic right to life does not exist? Governments sit around tables deciding what is safe and where the undocumented must remain.

So, let us speak in honesty: Why speak of war when years upon years have passed that our young men exist unnamed, unheard, and unspoken of here, right under our noses? Here in Europe they remain and yet Europe speaks of the safety of Afghanistan the very same day when bombs and gunmen devastate an already devastated land of blood and tears. Let us speak honestly of the colonial violence of a system which strategically denies the young men any right to life and thereby to hope? Whose life matters? Not the lives of my kin, evidently, when the only place they can claim is the cold, wet, and piss-soaked sidewalks of the great European progress? Dublin Regulation violently acquires their finger-prints, imprisons them in camps in countries they do not get to choose, savagely discards them outside one borders into another where they must sleep with rats on modern streets of modern European cities. Dublin Regulation forces them to endure beatings, shootings, suffocation by tear gas – all in the hands of the police; that is, to say nothing of all the horrors inflicted by hostile people and vicious climates.

Europe desires to live in comfort and security; but, I ask you, does this not itself necessitate a secure and just condition outside our homes as well as within its bounds? Well, how can we have young men lining our streets with no access to a simple thing as a toilet where they can lay their waste rather than in alleyways and by trees, which exposes rich and poor alike to diseases? Did Europe not once experience the threat of shit on its roads and in its waters?

To live is the very ground upon which life gains meaning, but living comprises of the right to be housed. This is undisputable; and yet, here in the land of progress, development, and modernity, exist many unhoused while houses, many houses, remain empty. No-one comes to Europe after our homes, our jobs, and our women. Europe is literally constructed by another’s home, another’s prospect of work, and another’s right to life, so how can the other come here for what is already theirs? As long as they are denied, we can exist. How can we accept such a condition to life; more so, how can it be that we, rationally, accept this as progress?

Here is where politics meets creativity, mobility, and the theatrics of oppression in pursuit of effective rebellion across borders, cultures, languages, and over walls into homes for the unhoused. Here is where strategic failures of the system is translated to tactical interventions by the encountering of those who have been failed and those who resist the system. Here is where rage is agitated, passions excited, and revolution blossom…ing.

Pavillon Solidaire presentation

What are we doing?

The Pavillon  Solidaire is a building in the south of L’Ile Saint Denis which has been empty since February 2020. We occupied the building during the New Year, and ten Afghan refugees are now living there.

The building is owned by the town hall, and was formerly used by local associations. However, it has been deserted since February 2020.

We have two aims:

1) provide shelter for refugees;

2) make sure that the building is not left to rot, but will re-open as a living space for activities in the neighbourhood.

Who are we?

Some of us are refugees from Afghanistan, some of us are long-time residents of L’Ile Saint Denis, others are friends from different places and countries. Some of us are involved with local collectives and associations, others are simply individuals. We invite all our neighbours to join us and participate in this project.

Who writes on this blog?

Different individuals and groups are free to publish their thoughts on this blog. The texts may not necessarily reflect the views of everyone involved in the Pavillon Solidaire. Get in touch if you would like to share your words or images here!

Pavillon Solidaire
2 Quai de l’Aéroplane, 93450 L’Île-Saint–Denis, France
pavillonsolidaire [at] riseup [dot] net

Refugees related groups in France
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