Undocumented migrants calling themselves the ‘Black Vest’ protesters flooded the Pantheon in Paris and demanded the right to remain in France. The protesters vowed to remain on site until all of the illegals get proper papers.
Some 200-300 undocumented migrants stormed the Pantheon – a popular tourist site and mausoleum – where the most renowned French national heroes, such as Voltaire or Victor Hugo, are buried.
The majority of the protesters, who call themselves ‘Black Vests’ – in an analogy with the Yellow Vests movement – are believed to be migrants of West African origin.
“We are paperless, voiceless, faceless for the French Republic. We come to the graves of your great men to denounce your disrespect,” one of the protest organizers said in a statement ahead of the event.
“We will remain here until the last one of us has been given documents,” a leaflet given out by an organiser read.
The protest triggered a massive police response, several people have been reportedly detained. Initially, the event was maily peaceful with the protesters displaying banners and shouting slogans without getting rowdy and avoiding scuffles with law enforcement.
After spending several hours inside, the protesters vacated the monument, yet refused to disperse and tried to held a sit-in protest in front of it.
The situation around the Pantheon eventually turned violent with police repeatedly charging the crowd in an attempt to disperse it. Police used batons and pepper spray to subdue the protesters; several people have been reportedly injured in the scuffles.
Right wing leader Marine Le Pen called the occupation unacceptable. She tweeted: “In France, the only future for any illegal immigrant should be getting kicked out, because that’s the law.”
There were those among the French politicians who, on the contrary, voiced support. “It’s very important for me that everything goes – at the moment –without violence, peacefully. I hope that their demands will be heard, these people have been protesting for a long time, yet so far they see nothing from the government but a closed door,” Eric Coquerel, a member of the National Assembly, stated.
A similar protest was staged by the group back in May, when the Black Vests occupied Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris. The protesters demanded legal papers for all, as well as accused the Air France carrier of collaborating with the government in the quest to deport illegal migrants.