Since the beginning of October, several schools in Rennes have been occupied at night by migrant families. The parents of students have formed a collective, “Protected students” so that no child sleeps on the street.
It is almost 7 p.m., satchel on their backs, the last students are leaving the daycare center of the Ecole de l’Ille in Rennes. Emilia, Sandro, Lika, Dimetre and Lazare will stay put. For 5 weeks for the first, a little less for the others, they have been sleeping in their school. Some in a classroom, others in daycare.
This Monday evening, it is Séverine, one of the student mothers of the Pupils Protected.es collective who accompanies their parents for the installation. Every evening, the parents take turns to be there.
“We are not political activists, not union representatives, just parents who can’t stand the idea that children can sleep outside“ she explains.
So they took action.
It started this summer, Séverine and the others saw a camp set up in the square near the school. “At first it had two tents, and then by the end of the summer more than 80 people were living there.“recalls the mother.
“My son was playing football with Sandro, and then in September, we had a word from a school teacher who asked for clothes to help them. We know that there are children who sleep outside, but when we know their names, their faces and we meet them every day, it becomes more difficult to sleep. ”
When the camp was evacuated on October 5, the parents reacted. “We looked for all possible solutions but found nothing. One Monday evening, at 6:45 p.m., we returned to the school”.
A first family has settled: Krystin, her husband and her two children, who arrived from Georgia in 2021. A few days later, another family arrived.
“We slept in a tent, testifies Khatia. It was very very difficult for me, I cried all night because I saw my children sleeping outside.”
In the morning, when the school children arrive, the family must leave the premises. She returns when the last students have left. “Every night you have to take out the mattresses, duvets and pillows, but at least they sleep warm ” rejoices Severine.
The parents of the school have established a rotation to bring something to eat. A gratin of pasta shells, hot soup, coffee, bread, a book, a blanket, smiles. With each commodity that comes out of the bag, Kristin pronounces a new thank you. Parents lent a fridge. Life is organized.
“It’s beautiful this solidarity, it gives hope because we tell ourselves that everything is not rotten, that there are still traces of humanity… but at the same timeasks Séverine, it raises questions, because if we do it, it means there is a need to do it. And there, we can be a little angry because it means that there is a need to do it, that there is a failure. It should be up to the state to do that.”
A few days ago, for Sandro’s birthday, the parents organized a kitty to give him a present: tickets to attend the Rennes match. “It was perhaps one of the happiest days of his life.” marvels Séverine.
I don’t know where I would be if they weren’t here
“I’m very grateful for the friendship these people have for me, I don’t know where I would be if they weren’t here, says Khatia. It’s important for hope, I’m not alone now and it makes me strong.”
video length: 01min 36
Interview with Khatia, Georgian refugee
Other schools are also organizing to shelter the children. Here, a kitty has been opened to finance hotel nights. Elsewhere, an apartment has been rented for a month. The parents of the students from the Liberté school take turns hosting Roger, a 9-year-old Angolan boy, his 14-year-old sister and his mother.
“They were sleeping in a tent and were assaulted last June” explains Sophie, one of the mothers who received the family at her home. Like Séverine, she hesitates between enthusiasm and rage. “It’s great to see that people are mobilizing but it’s also very hard, she confides. It’s difficult to make them change places all the time, they can’t project themselves. What they are going through is terrible. It’s heart warming but it’s not acceptable.”
“The first day they arrived at our house, we felt the little boy scared and then he started to play, it passed. But we feel a fragility. He has an incredible ability to erase, he plays without a noise, without disturbing, as if he had integrated this need for discretion into himself.”
“We don’t know what they went through before coming to France, but to agree to go through such things and have your children go through them, you have to have gone through really difficult things before.”
Prepare for an emergency
Sophie worries about her new protégés. “When you find yourself in direct contact with the family, when you know them, when you have taken them in, you feel somewhat responsible for what happens to them.“
But how to do it ? “By dialing 115 every day for 6 months, the family obtained 3 times 2 weeks in hotels” asks Sophie.
Over the past 6 months, the number of calls from families with children to 115 has increased by 30% in Rennes. 85% of phone calls end in a negative answer, the reception centers are all saturated. “Perhaps a school occupation would make more sense, it would make them more visible and it would make it possible to better defend them.“
Occupations also have their limits. The collective senses this and begins to notice the fatigue of some parents. Bringing shopping baskets regularly is a cost. Spending the evening takes time. Everyone organizes themselves as best they can, but it’s not easy and “this is not a real solution, laments Sophie, we deal with the emergency, we provide shelter, not accommodation.”
However, the collective does not intend to give up and rejects the idea of dealing with the administrative situation of families. It doesn’t matter whether they have papers or not, he refuses to allow children to sleep on the streets.
video length: 02min 34
Ille school in occupied Rennes
According to the barometer of street children published by SIAO 35 (the integrated reception and guidance service of Ille-et-Vilaine), more than 1,000 children are in precarious accommodation in the department.