Gens du voyage: near Lille, ten years of women’s fight to change air
Change of air to be able to breathe: since 2013, on a site for travelers near Lille caught in a vice between a concrete plant and a brickyard, women are leading the fight to claim a livable environment. next to these factories? Normally not human beings”. In the kitchen of her shack, alongside her three sisters, Sue Ellen Demestre displays an intact indignation after a decade of commitment. His family has been settled, in fact, for 15 years in this area, where according to his count some 280 people are squeezed. A screen of trees separates them from the concrete plant, an embankment from a rubble crushing plant. Originally, families had set up a “wild” camp on nearby land to spend the winter there. In 2007, a reception area was created, the Besson law requiring municipalities with more than 5,000 inhabitants to have one. Initially satisfied, the occupants become disillusioned when cement scab, conjunctivitis and respiratory problems appear, reports Sue Ellen. Not to mention the noise and the ballet of the trucks. But for lack of any other solution and to educate the children, they take root. Until 2013, the Briqueteries du Nord set up shop. It’s too much trouble, women, including Sue Ellen’s mother, create a collective, Da so vas, “Tendre la main” in the gypsy dialect. Petitions, demonstrations, making a film follow one another. – “We pay to die” – “We lost our 42-year-old sister-in-law to generalized cancer. Her brother also had cancer. Out of ten births, seven children end up with asthma. The elderly have recurrent bronchitis”, Sue Ellen list, which points to “environmental racism”. “Here, we pay to die,” says his sister Lisa, because the occupants pay rent. “In July-August, it’s unbearable: you put down a phone, in two minutes it’s covered in dust”. Her 20-year-old niece, mother of two daughters aged 9 months and 6 years, takes her youngest out as little as possible, who suffers from respiratory problems and eye irritation. No official link has been established between the state of health of the residents and the pollution of the site. In November 2020, the prefecture asked the concrete company CCB to assess its emissions at its own expense. The measurements will be carried out “in the second quarter of 2023”, assures CCB. So far, no design office has agreed to intervene because of the “risk of degradation” of the equipment by the residents, pleads the company. “We can take all the measurements we want, anyway there is dust and they no longer want to live there”, sweeps the elected representative of the Lille metropolis for travelers, Patrick Delebarre. The relocation of this area is now recorded in the Departmental Reception Scheme for Travellers. But finding other land is complex, he points out. – A “unique” mobilization – “The law today requires that we put these people in healthy places”, whereas at the time, “the way of seeing was to say + the law obliges to put them in a corner, let’s put them in a corner. The Departmental Scheme provides for family land or suitable housing, combining houses and pitches for caravans, because the areas “no longer correspond to the expectations of travelers from the North”, who are largely settled, he explains. The municipalities of Ronchin and Hellemmes are looking for land but “we don’t have many building public plots left” and there is a lack of space, says the town hall of Ronchin. For William Acker, a jurist from the Traveler community, the fight of women in this area, “among the worst” in France, is unique “even on a European scale”. “Usually, the struggles are scattered and exhausted very quickly, the public of the reception areas cannot afford to oppose the administration frontally”. “Whether we like it or not, they have succeeded in sedentarizing us”, summarizes Sue Ellen. “But I want us to be our way. We also want our children to have a job later on that makes them want to get up in the morning.”bj/cab/cbn
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