On Wednesday January 3, the Northern prefecture ordered the closure of the Emmaüs community at Halte Saint-Jean, citing a fire risk. This decision comes as workers from this community have been on strike for six months to denounce their working conditions and demand their regularization.

Located in Saint-André-lez-Lille (North), the Halte Saint-Jean must be brought up to standard because a commission noted anomalies, in particular “the absence of an adequate fire system”, during a visit to the month of October, specifies the prefecture in a press release. She notes that the prefectural decree “is indeed a protection measure and not an expulsion measure”, because the operator has not undertaken any work since this visit.

A police intervention is not planned in the coming days at the Halte Saint-Jean, in front of which the strikers, supported by the General Confederation of Labor (CGT) and a collective of undocumented immigrants, have been holding a strike picket since the beginning of July, assures the prefecture. She reminds us that it is Emmaüs’ responsibility to ensure the rehousing of companions while the establishment is brought up to standard.

The question of rehousing

On Tuesday, the president of Halte Saint-Jean, Pierre Duponchel, declared that he was ready to rehouse the non-striking companions, but referred to the Emmaüs France federation – which has initiated a dispute procedure against this community – for the future of the strikers.

“Today, we cannot even enter the site despite a court decision” ordering the lifting of the blockade, he assured, calling on “the demonstrators” to leave the premises. “Access to the site is not possible even to carry out work,” he added.

For Gabonese Alixe, one of the spokespersons for the strikers, the closure order “is just a strategy by the prefect to break the strike movement”. “We are victims to be protected and they want to put us on the street, disperse us,” she is indignant.

Halte Saint-Jean has been the target of an investigation for “human trafficking” and “hidden work” since May. The strikers claim to work forty hours a week and receive a salary lower than that recommended by Emmaüs France, with uncertain prospects for regularization.

Since 2018, an undocumented migrant who can demonstrate at least three years of activity in a community reception organization and solidarity activities, as well as integration prospects, can be granted a residence permit. Halte Saint-Jean is one of the rare Emmaüs communities not to have adopted this status.