Riot police were called to the Vatican Embassy in Paris today after it was occupied by campaigners for homeless immigrants.
The invasion of a sacred diplomatic space was being viewed with ‘extreme seriousness’, said an officer at the scene, who added that ‘around fifty people had got inside’.
However, by lunchtime there had been no arrests, and the protesters had pledged to leave peacefully after making their point, said the police officer.
All were campaigning against the Catholic Church’s decision to evacuate a church in Lille, northern France, earlier this month because it was being used as a homeless squat.
A spokesman for the Vatican Embassy in Paris, known as the Apostolic Nuncio and close to the Alma bridge across the Seine river, said that the Paris occupation started at around 10.30am.
Protesters unfurled a large orange banner from a window reading: ‘Jesus defended the stranger. What have you, Christian, done for your undocumented brothers?’
Around 70 North African immigrants, mainly from the former French colony of Algeria, have been on hunger strike in Lille since November, demanding that they are given official papers.
On December 21 many of them were removed from the church in Lille which they had been occupying.
Today’s peaceful demonstration in Paris was organised by a group called the 9th Collection of the Undocumented.
France’s new Socialist Interior Minster Manuel Valls this year pledged to relax the country’s notoriously tough approach towards naturalisation.
The protesters invaded what is sacred diplomatic space and unfurled a banner that read ‘Jesus defended the stranger. What have you, Christian, done for your undocumented brothers?’
He has proposed scrapping entrance requirements including a multiple-choice examination of French culture and history, as well as a solemn pledge to the Republican values of liberty, equality and fraternity.
However, Mr Valls has combined such measures with a clampdown on foreign groups including thousands of Roma gypsies, whom he wants to return home.
The Arab Spring of 2011 has led to thousands of displaced people from the Middle East and North Africa seeking a new home in France.
However, finding jobs and housing, together with other social security measures, remains notoriously difficult in France.