Inscrivez-vous à la newsletter

Follow us on: facebook

Our history

The dignity of exiled people:
The fight of Utopia 56

History of a citizen association

The birth of Utopia 56 in the Calais “jungle”

At the end of 2015, the world is shocked by the foto of little Aylan lying on a Greek shore. After these images, and the ones from the Calais jungle, a wave of solidarity appears and many associations are created.

Sitting on his sofa in front of the television, Liam ask his fater Yann: “Dad, what are you doing?”.

Yann Manzi andi his wife Gaëdig leave the following weekend for Calais, to help for three days in the association Salam. After these three days, Yann calls his oldest son Gaël to tell him about the situation, and the two leave for three weeks to help on the field. They quickly realise that there is no citizen coordination on the field. Volunteering activities are badly organised, and the volunteers are not supervised. Moreover, the vast majority (90%) of volunteers are English. The two share their observations with their family and friends. They have worked a lot in festivals: Yann (manager in the camping sites at the Vieilles Charrues festival), Gaëdig (executive assistant for 10 years in the Interceltic festival of Lorient) and Liza (technical manager at FIL, who has supervised big teams of volunteers) think they have the skills to supervise and create teams that can help exiled people, especially after the alarming observations of the situation on the field. They go back to Brittany, where they create the association Utopia 56 on the 15th of January 2016, to coordinate volunteering and give an opportunity to everyone to work on the field, without prior formation and with no minimal time of engagement. The association also aims to witness the migratory situation, and allows people to see the reality with their own eyes.

The Calais Jungle (September 2016, a month before the eviction).

Gaël starts coordinating the volunteering activities. He meets different English associations and the French association l’Auberge des Migrants, and brings in donations from Brittany. He realises that the jungle is the most dirty slum in Europe and Utopia 56 replies to the help request of Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors without Borders) and Médecins du Monde (Doctors of the World). The teams start organising themselves to clean the Calais jungle, and little by little, also start helping in the school with French courses and with the association Belgium Kitchen, who at the time distributed more than 1500 meals each day. Every week, more and more people show up in Calais to help, rising up to 35 volunteers per day. The organisation on the field becomes more and more efficient, and the volunteers also bring in their own professional skills to increase the internal organisation of the association and the work on the field. In the mean time, we meet a person from the EELV (Europe Écologie Les Verts) party of Calais city, who tells us about the Basroch camp, 35km away from Calais (Grande-Synthe city). 

The first volunteers, cleaning in the Jungle.

Grande-Synthe, the association coordination and the citizen camp of La Linière

Damien Carême (mayor of Grande-Synthe) and MSF build a camp according to the UNHCR norms, to bring out the Kurdish people from this indignified camp, against the will of the State which does everything to block this project. In collaboration with our partner associations, we started an associative coordination of the camp, from its opening in March and for several months, while continuing our missions in Calais. The citizen efforts are impressive, and people from all over Europe come to help.

We have supervised 10.000 days of volunteers in this camp (with an average of 60 volunteers/day) in collaboration with 54 associations. Our missions consisted in a 24/7 reception of exiled people, the construction of collective, wooden, kitchens, a laundromat open all day, “shops” to distribute blankets, clothes, hygiene kits, the constructions of a space dedicated to women, a help at the dentist cabinet, a children’s education center, English and French courses for adults and much more…

The Grande-Synthe camp (Juin 2016). // A food distribution.

Construction atelier in camp. // The entry to the kitchen in the Grande-Synthe camp. // Tea and Coffee tent, a place of conviviality.

Three months after the success of this camp, the State with its association (State-financed) AFEJI, takes over the camp and start removing the cabins and huts, imposing restrictions (only families with children). We are powerless in front of this bad decision, with disastrous consequences in terms of safety and reception. MSF decides to leave in August, as the camp is nothing like the inconditionnal reception that was initially decided with the associations and the mayor’s office. Utopia 56 stays to ensure a transition until the 30th of September 2016 but decides to leave the camp as well, to express its political disagreement regarding the camp management.

NB: The camp of la Linière burnt down in April 2017, due to disagreements between the communities after the progressive dismantelments of the huts and the increase of population in the camp.

Failure of la Linière and dismantling of the “jungle”: the return of Calais

At the end of October 2016, the slums in Calais, called “The Jungle” are dismantled. About 7000 exiled people are directed towards the CAO (centres d’accueil et d’orientation) and CAO MI (CAO for isolated minors) throughout France. With l’Auberge des Migrants, Utopia 56 distributes 15 000 flyers in arabic, amharic, tigrinya, farsi and pashto so that exiled people can stay in contact with the associations. A platform Info CAO is set up by l’Auberge and Utopia 56 to help citizens to organise themseleves and help in different regions. Utopia 56 also sets up an emergency telephone number for isolated minors. Teenagers are accompanies, helped and sometimes lodged. Some groupes of Utopia 56 organise themselves in the regions of Lille, Lyon, Tours, Saint-Brieuc, Brest, Quimper, Rennes…

Football match with non-accompanied minors, Brest (Brittany).

After the new directives in Grande-Synthe, Gaël decides to go back to the Calais jungle, with a sall team of 5-10 people and starts again with the initial missions of the associations: cleaning, helpin in the Belgium Kitchen, school courses, management at the warehouse (interassociation hangar). This is the real beginning of the interassociations in Calais and the start of legal actions to help exiled people. We work in interassociations on the communication for the respect of the rights of exiled people and asylum seekers. Little by little, the number of exiled people, minors as adults, increases again and fixed distributions are set up.

The State puts in place a harassement policy against exiled people, as well as of people helping (hindrance of food distributions, fines, physical and verbal violence against volunteers, against exiled people, destruction of material, stealing of shoes, phones…). For over 6 months, the police prevents exiled people from accessing materials to shelter themselves and to food. The associations sue the State so that the human fundamental rights of refugees in Calais are respected (water points, toilets, non-hindrance of citizen distributions, marauds for minors). When the associations win in the trial, the State must put in place a food distribution.

Even today, working in Calais, is an exposure to a strong repression.

Against camps in the streets: a Center of First Reception in Paris

In May 2016, while the State is taking over the camp in Grande-Synthe, a delegation of the city hall of Paris meets Utopia 56 in the Grande-Synthe camp to talk about its project of a First Reception Center (Centre de Premier Accueil, CPA). The mayor of Paris want to cope with the massive arrival of several milion of exiled people that are forming unsanitary camps in the capital; the State opposes this project supported by the city hall. The CPA will be created in Porte de la Chapelle, with a capacity of 400 places, and people are in rotation so that there is enough time to orient exiled people towards the State facilities. We receive insurance that the camp will have unconditional reception, but we tell the city of Paris that we are afraid that camps will be created in front of the center. We work with the city of Paris to mobilise citizens in this project, that will have 20% of our actions inside and 80% outside of the center.

The CPA center at Porte de la Chapelle // Line in front of the center (February 2017).

Inside, we insure the organisation of clothes collection in Paris and the distribution of collected items inside the center and on streets. Outside, we help to organise the line and accompany minors towards the facility of evaluation of minors of the Red Cross (DEMIE) as well as the management of the camp that is effectively installed in front of the center. We will count up to 2700 people who are waiting to enter the CPA. The populations of camps are forgotten, fed and equipped only by collectives and citizen associations including Utopia 56. We notice that there are disfunctions in the care of minors. At night, we organise a health watch and distributions of blankets and hand warmers.

Little by little, the State, that did not want this camp, takes over this device by creating a selection of populations through the deposition of fingerprints at the police Department, to check if people are Dublined (see the Dublin Regulation, catalyser of the reception crisis in Europe) and sending them towards an accomodation as part of their expulsion. We oppose strongly to this selection and note the lack incapacity of the city hall.

In September 2017, we denounce the welcome policits of these centers and we leave them to intensify our actions in the streets.

The failure of these two projects has confirmed that the State wants to keep hold of the migratory policies and that no elected person, citisen or organisation can interfere in the management of these populations on the long run, without being strongly hindered.

2019/2020: our missions on citizen accomodations, maraudes for distributions and social maraudes.

While opening the Utopia 56 pole in Paris, in the autumn of 2016, and starting to intervene in the humanitarian center of Port de la Chapelle, we observed every evening, when the center was closing, that families were left on the streets. Spontaneously, and by word of mouth, citizens started hosting these families, single women and pregnant women. It was the start of our parisian network of emergency accomodation.

Starting from 2017, a team of Médecins sans Frontières (Doctors without Borders) joins us on the citizen accomodation of non-accompanied minors. Today non-accompanied minors are hosted all over France in private houses, and in partnership with Médecins sans Frontières in several regions.

You can find here the page dedicated to the story of our citizen accomodation.

In each Utopia 56 antennae, in Calais, Lille, Paris, Rennes, Toulouse and Tours, we develop a project around our three main missions:

  • Maraude of distributions of food, clothes, hygiene products, shelter material (tents, blankets etc).
  • Social maraudes: how to ask for asylum in France, how to be protected as a non-accompanied minor, how to find health care, clothes, places to sleep etc…
  • Citizen accommodation: for families on the short term in the Ile-de-France region and for non-accompanied minors on the medium and long term everywhere in France, allowing them to rest and to advance in their administrative steps for asylum or protection. This programs also allows, given its numbers, to force the public power in opening supplementary accomodation places.

We also keep on pursuing our missions of citisen sensibilisation and advocacy.

Click here to read to go to our Action context page.

Go back to who we are page.