After months of threats from oil supergiant TotalEnergies, the abandoned school on Jean Bouin street was cleared out by a huge police operation yesterday, sparking alarm over the use of disproportionate force.
The former Georges Brassens school, which was originally occupied in early 2020 and housed up to 200 people, mostly Eastern European and Central African families, was down to 65 residents when the raid took place after co-ordinated pressure from the labour and immigration ministries, national police and city authorities.
Witnesses said more than 15 vanloads of police turned out to enforce the eviction, which involved the 7am rousting of 44 adults and 21 minors, with 48 people being relocated to the former Chabal fire station in Saint-Priest, which is managed by the Salvation Army. A further three agreed to be placed in a “voluntary return assistance” programme while 14 refused and were rendered homeless.
Authorities attempted to justify the raid on health and safety grounds, saying the site had unsanitary conditions and is at risk from its position on the edge of a Seveso classified industrial site. Seveso is a series of EU directives requiring member States to identify areas at risk of major accidents and in need of strict safety policies.
With the eviction order originally being signed off by the Court of Appeal in July, NGOs and solidarity organisations knew an evacuation would take place but were not informed of the date and time until shortly before it happened — even city mayor Murielle Laurent said he was told the plan was about to be carried out only a few hours prior.
A number of solidarity activists arrived while the operation was in progress, to try to help the evacuees as best they could. Among these volunteers, members of La Calle collective were critical of the “very massive police force” and noted that “very few accommodation proposals were announced.”
The group urged locals to join an occupation of Clémenceau gym on 66 Bechevelin road and bring friends and food, blankets along with other necessities.
Berthe, a member of CLASSES (a Lyonnais collective for access to schooling and support for children in squats) , expressed shock at the nature of the intervention. “They seem to take advantage of the slum upgrading plan to control the inhabitants and their administrative situation,” she said. This is not the aim of the process. “
Supporting groups noted that, as the squat had been under threat since July, many of the former residents had already moved on and opened new buildings, such as Amphi Z and Maurice-Scève college. Due to a shortage of 1,000 emergency accommodation places in Lyon however, and because of the State’s policy of non-accommodation, many people will end up on the street.
Pic: Police raids, by Le Calle