In front of the Halte Saint-Jean and the beautiful, slightly dilapidated building which houses the Emmaus community of Saint-André-lez-Lille, hands are outstretched towards a pallet fire, supposed to keep the November drizzle at bay. The companions, on strike since July 1, recount with bitterness the muscular intervention of the police which surprised them on November 23, after months of mobilization.
“They entered around 6 a.m., very numerous. They seized the musical instruments with which we demonstrated and the 350 euros from the strike fund. And when we opposed it, they started to gas us and beat us,” testifies Mamadou Bah, one of the companions, with supporting videos. On the site, where the heating is now turned off, 21 adults and 9 children who attend school in the neighborhood live.
“Forty-eight hour weeks paid 180 euros”
For five months, the revolt has been brewing against the management of the site. Two complaints were filed, for “human trafficking” and “hidden work”, and the companions denounce, in addition to racist or humiliating remarks, blackmail for a residence permit. “We are told that if we work, after three years we will have papers. Except that then the tone changes, and we hear: If you’re not happy, go back to your country », indignant Happy Patrick, who has lived there with his four children for more than five years.
Responsible for welcoming donors, sorting donations and managing the site’s two stores, all describe weeks of “forty-eight hours paid 180 euros” per month, at best. Less costs related to accommodation and food. Emmaüs France did not respond to our requests.
A press release dated November 24 rejects any responsibility for the police intervention and specifies that the situation of the strikers is being considered “with the greatest attention”. But also that a “judicial procedure is underway” to determine possible shortcomings within the establishment.