is only one virtue: impotence.
In January 2001 a
group of "illegals" – sans-papiers fighting
– occupied the abandoned building of the Somalian
embassy in Brussels to meet their urgent need for accommodations.
This place, abandoned
because of the civil war in Somalia, property of a vanished
state, was soon to become the Universal Embassy.
It is universal, because the individuals assembled here
are conscious of the discrimination that is produced
through ties to a nationality. Since then, the building
has been inhabited solely by sans-papiers. The aim of
the Universal Embassy is support and consequently autonomy.
It helps the residents with their various administrative
treks of a legal or social nature. It is a place that
is open, where people that are illegal in their place
of residence and can expect no support from the authorities
of their countries of origin can exchange information,
meet other communities, prepare battle plans. It has
become the embassy of those who no longer have any embassy.
The Universal Embassy
is a unique place in Brussels, where sans-papiers can
share their experiences, mutually support one another
and develop a public voice, where all kinds of encounters
are possible, where different communities mix, where
a social life can become manifest and diversity can
be expressed. Today there are approximately thirty people
living in the Universal Embassy: men, women and children
of Algerian, Moroccan, Rwandan, Ecuadorian, Albanian,
Iranian, Ukrainian origins.
Agency in the Universal
Embassy is developed in articulation between the misery
of clandestinity and a political fiction. What is able
to emerge in this is a new language. The language of
a people to come.
The function of acceptance
and care is fundamental. This makes it possible to grasp
the development of the situation of migrants: the processes
leading to clandestinity, the obstacles in the way of
regularization. This is where the center of agency is
found. From this point, an expertise in survival is
developed together with the residents, a legal and political
expertise, an everyday sensibility. The entirety of
the activities is directed to preparing the sans-papiers
for the battle for the recognition of their rights,
to giving them confidence in their means again. Something
beyond the horizon of survival slowly crystallizes –
a place that is more than emergency accommodations.
The residents are the political subject, they organize
Social work retreats
into an individual relationship between supporter and
supported. This relationship is hopelessly incapable
of helping the victims of clandestinity, who are by
definition without legal security. The measure of the
humanity of the policies that the illegals encounter
is variable. On the one hand they have access to certain
rights and to certain institutions: such as receiving
medical treatment, enrolling their children in school,
or even rights to carry out precarious activities. Other
than that, they can be prey to a raid in the subway
and end up in a centre
It is ultimately in this constrained juridical space
that the sans-papiers conducts his or her battle. The
arbitrariness and the lack of an overall vision constantly
contribute to the isolation of migrants, to the development
of rumors, to the reproduction of acts of subjugation
to procedures with no future. The political dimension
disappears. Almost all that is left in the end is to
demand the minimal status of a human being ...
It is not enough
to cry out the political dimension loudly. The sans-papiers
are not a legal body that can assert certain claims.
And yet mobilization work is all too often thought of
in these kinds of terms. Clandestinity dissolves every
life project. It is easy to accuse the sans-papiers
of a corporatism of survival. It is time to go beyond
the one-dimensional character of the battle.
The Universal Embassy
is a star.
an absurd journey, at the end of which there is the
loss of identity. A resident from Somalia, that vanished
country, wanders around in the city wearing a Zorro
mask. In the centre
fermé he would have held incoherent speeches ...
A migrant grandmother rings the doorbell of the neighboring
building, convinced that her daughter lives there: the
Embassy of Saudi Arabia. She has spent seven years on
a journey, during which reality dissolves ... She is
77 years old. Clandestinity becomes a state of suspension
in a parallel world, an evaporation of one's own substance.
The Universal Embassy
is a concentrate of weakness. When someone comes here
to find shelter, then it is because the precariousness
of their situation has become unbearable.
Fear is the clandestine's
shadow. Fear of everything and everyone: of taking the
bus, of working, of moving. One must take care not to
be conspicuous, not to loiter in the shopping centers.
Those who have nothing to buy, have no reason to loiter
there ... Every action holds its own measure of risk.
It is the justice
system that holds one together. The hope is minute,
and everyone settles into waiting. Always, always waiting,
everything concentrated on this waiting. Wearing out
in wearing through the procedure, for months, for years.
One seeks encouragement in thinking that it is still
better than risking certain deportation. Obscene labyrinth.
20, 30 years old,
with no future, no possible life plan. Clandestine migration
extends the bitter experience of a lost youth. In order
to flee from a leaden society or unemployment, migration
becomes a life project in itself, the hope of a possibility.
This dream retreats back to itself. The project becomes
unreal. There is no more desire that could be articulated.
The hypothetical day of regularization becomes devoid
of meaning, none can be invested in it. The only constant
is that there is no solution.
The loss of self
is at work here. Becoming a driven, exploited animal,
a criminal and a victim. No more reading, no more writing,
earning three euros in an hour, even less as a woman.
Founding and building
up the Universal Embassy means finding a concrete hope
again. This is the articulation that is the point here:
countering this constrained reality with something and
moving beyond the nations and their desolate territories;
being able to gain confidence in one's own means, to
desire, to plan one's life.
The Universal Embassy
is a facilitation. Initially it was a matter of accommodations
that had to be renovated: cleaning from the top to the
bottom, connecting water and electricity, furnishing
a kitchen, repairing sanitary facilities, fixing the
place - which is open in every respect and exposed to
all possible influences - can only be a place of crisis.
The living space alone is not viable, if the entirety
of the problems of its inhabitants are not covered.
Without having any authority, without being able to
delegate anything. Every difficulty requires finding
ways to overcome it. Very often outside the realm of
medicine, outside the realm of law, through the realization
of a habitat. A heterogeneous mosaic of those involved
gradually emerges, which is grounded in respect and
the exchange of knowledge. At the same time that the
habitat is enriched, it breaks through the social isolation
that is so effectively organized through repression.
It becomes autonomous.
One can read "Ailleurs"
("Elsewhere") by Henri Michaux together, the
story of the Arpedres: "The Arpedres are the most
obstinate people there are, obsessed with righteousness,
with rights and even more with duties. Respectable traditions,
certainly. All of it without a horizon." - Expression
liberates itself, steps out of the stigma, one can break
loose, celebrate, and celebrating also means eating.
It is possible to invest politics with meaning and derive
a force of desiring from this, finding a place in the
world again, where opinions are meaningful and actions
As migrants with
no protocol, the sans-papiers are driven by the evidence
of law to have rights. They are neither victims nor
criminals. The autonomy of their movements sounds the
call for a new relation of the legal subject to the
productive subject. What can the historical bond between
the citizen and the worker still mean, if foreigners
are enslaved here? Supernumeraries of bio-power, their
existence in the transnational world today invents new
diasporas without the original break and constitutes
multifarious networks of solidarity and exploitation,
in which origins, settlement and transit touch across
several generations. The territory becomes the local
that is linked with the journey.
What we have here
is the immediacy of a legal subject that is transnational,
because it transcends the small agreements between nations;
an interest other than in changing citizenship or in
(inevitably always suspicious) dual citizenship, the
desire for something else: an autonomy of personal and
collective constitution and the paths of new solidarities
that are released from territories and borders.
Europe remains blind
with regard to this essential foundation of the world
to come. By insisting on a conception of nationality
that has nearly run its course, the various European
countries indulge in the illusion of being able to control
and halt the migrations, whose motivations lie solely
in the initiatives of the migrants. What is implemented
here is a new landscape of war. And it was actually
thought that the negativity of the wall had been overcome.
By accepting that
human beings undergo existential crises because they
have no papers, the states remind us of how identity
is to be understood. The existence of an identity between
states is a loss of identity, which can go as far as
the loss of one's name, but can also become a place
of the universal that recomposes itself where the paths
cross. The Universal Embassy seeks to impel this transition:
from the extinguished identity to the universal that
is to be constituted; transgressing affirmation by power
of the negation of an existence without papers and sowing
the seeds of constitutive desire; leaving the obligatory
mediation of the state behind, in order to invoke a
direct effect on a transnational right. Like every embassy,
the Universal Embassy is a place of representation,
but without a figured state. What is represented is
emerging. Its inhabitants, the sans-papiers, new pariahs
of the free world, contest a national citizenship that
is a blood relation of the nation. By intervening in
the contours of state representations, the embassy abolishes
the limitation of the border locally. Its inhabitants
are those who have already arrived in terms of a local
that is present in the world.