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Police raid migrant occupation

An occupation by migrants that started on 10 June 2002, in advance of the EU Summit in Seville on 21-22 June, in the Andalusian city's Pablo de Olavide university was ended by a police raid on 8 August. As a result over 270 people were detained and taken to cells in the Seville police headquarters to await judicial decisions on their cases. Over 430 migrants, predominantly Algerians, took part in the action which included a brief hunger strike over their loss of employment in the strawberry harvest in Huelva, in south-west Andalucia.

The migrants demanded their regularisation and protested against the actions of the Andalusian regional government, that authorised employers to employ 6,700 contract workers in their countries of origin (mainly Poland, and also Romania, countries with which Spain has concluded bilateral agreement on seasonal workers) to effectively replace thousands of Maghreb country nationals who usually carried out the work, many of whom lived locally. This is likely to result in many North Africans from the Huelva region, a lot of whom possessed employment contracts, losing their livelihood and becoming "illegals" under the Aznar government's restrictive immigration legislation, due to their loss of employment.

Police in riot gear, some on horseback, carried out the eviction at 6.15 am on 8 August, with searchlights from a helicopter lighting the area, after being asked to intervene by the university authorities. University head Rosario Valpuesta justified demanding the eviction by claiming that new protestors were joining the occupation, that renovation work needed to be carried out on the premises that were occupied, and that there was mounting friction between the migrants and university workers.

The official figure for the number of people detained was 275, and El Pais reports that judges in Dos Hermanas authorised the detention of 210 of these in immigrant detention centres in Madrid, Malaga, Murcia and Ceuta (which is not officially an immigrant detention centre, and in which 130 of those involved will be detained) pending expulsion. The remaining 65 were freed after their cases had not been dealt with within the three-day limit during which they could legally be detained, and reportedly included around 30 who may succeed in obtaining residence permits, and 12 who were given 15 days to leave Spain after being told that their regularisation applications submitted prior to the occupation were rejected.

Around 200 of the migrants handed their papers in to the Andalusian ombudsman (Defensor del Pueblo), Jose Chamizo, in the hope of obtaining residence papers. Many of these subsequently left the occupation and some of these can reportedly expect to obtain residence papers, whereas others refused to hand in their papers and stayed on campus.

Rosario Valpuesta had previously refused to demand or authorise police intervention, arguing that the university "is a space that implies freedom of thought, ideas and opinion, all of which is incompatible with an intervention, unless damage is caused to goods, persons or ideas". A local support network (Red de Apoyo) was established by concerned individuals who opened a bank account to provide basic necessities, medical assistance, legal counselling and solidarity to the migrants, with cooperation from Caritas, Medicos del Mundo, doctors from the Montequinto health centre, traders from the Seville market, Seville county council, and the town halls of Carmona and Dos Hermanas (Seville). Some university teachers also explicitly supported the occupants.

However, a month later, members of the support group were denied access to the campus by university security staff, university deputy head Juan Jimenez filed a formal complaint against them, and Jose Chamizo accused the support group of "manipulating" the migrants. The university and ombudsman blamed the support group for the migrants' refusal to give the ombudsman their documents, and for the length of the occupation.

The Red de Apoyo criticised "the intimidatory and authoritarian behaviour" of the university security service, and accused the media of "publicly attacking" them using "falsehood", stressing that the decisions taken by the migrants were taken independently. In a communique, the migrant workers backed the support group, contradicting some of the accusations, such as the allegation that their documents had been confiscated:

"Contrary to what has appeared in some media outlets, no one is holding our passports ... we unanimously decided to hide our personal documents as a defence against a possible police intervention. Our only form of defence is our anonymity, and as such we exercise it."

El Pais 11.6, 12.6, 23.6, 1.7, 20.7, 8-12.8.02; il manifesto 9.8.02; Sere yo el instigador del encierro en la Olavide? Carta abierta al senor delegado del gobierno en Andalucia, Juan F. Ojeda Rivera; Red de Apoyo communiques 11.7.02, 16.7.02; Communique of the migrant workers occupying the Pablo de Olavide university. Further information available from:

filed 14.8.02

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