Illegal students prompt strike

March 10, 2000

Staff at the controversial University of Seine-Saint-Denis last week voted to strike after an employee was allegedly attacked by foreign students demanding the right to live in France.

The students were among 167 illegal immigrants enrolled at the university on three-month tourist visas. They had been on strike, having occupied the main university lecture hall for six weeks in support of their claims for residence permits.

The University of Paris VIII at Seine-Saint-Denis - originally Vincennes University before it moved in 1980 to the dingy suburb north of the capital - was a byproduct of the 1968 student and worker protests that nearly brought down the government of President de Gaulle. A highly politicised institution, it was set up as an experiment to provide higher education to students of all ages without entry qualifications.

It has traditionally welcomed overseas students. The university has 6,000 foreign students, who account for nearly a quarter of the student body, three times the national average. This welcome extends to people without residence rights, even though this is technically illegal, and the university authorities lend support to their efforts to regularise their situation.

The problem arises at the prefecture, the departmental administrative headquarters where the applications for permits are viewed in a less sympathetic light.

After a number of individuals were turned down in December, the students set up an action committee to make a collective claim for regularisation. In January, they started taking it in turns to occupy the 500-seat lecture hall.

While Renaud Fabre, the university's president, some teachers and local authority representatives supported the students' aims, they condemned those they blamed for causing damage and for some violent incidents.

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