I attended – after a fashion – a rather extraordinary occasion. It was a parrainnage for illegal African refugees who are about to be send back to Italy (and thence, presumably, Africa) by the French Government.
It was extraordinary because I only got to hear about it at the last moment (from Philippe) and by the time I got to the Hotel de Ville, the grandiose 19th century council building, the first floor council chamber was packed, as was the space outside and the two stone staircases leading down to the ground floor. There must have been 100-200 people.
Since nobody could hear a thing going on in the council chamber, the only indication I had that an event had just taken place was when the whole crowd erupted in cheering. The crowd I should add was the usual splendid collection of le Vigan’s Left – I knew quite a few, including Philippe and Odile.
Meanwhile I tried to get people to explain what was happening. There were apparently a group of young Africans who have been staying in the centre de Salagosse up my road or in St Hippolyte, 40 kms away, who were about to be sent to Italy.
What was happening inside the chamber was a ceremony of sponsorship. I’ve since found this site which explains in detail what is involved in parrainage. The mayor of le Vigan, Eric Doulcier (the one good mayor around here) was clearly conducting some semi formal ceremony and when I finally got in afterwards, I saw that each refugee had been given documents.
I can imagine that Doulcier performed a dignified and moving ceremony, The groups who are now parrains with the refugees will sadly not have much time to fulfil their roles of support each month, as it seems clear they are destined for Italy shortly. But I think the idea is that all this paperwork will demonstrate to the authorities that the refugees are not alone and there are people to support them here, in the hope of getting them to change their decision.
I finally got into the chamber and saw several Africans clutching papers – like students at a graduation. I asked one where he came from. The Sudan, he said. I wished him good luck and then decided to go.
Outside, a band was playing. I thought this slightly incongruous; this was more a moment for funereal sad music, or perhaps something stirring to encourage us to take up arms.
Perhaps tomorrow I will get a clearer understanding of what happened.