French Student Sets Himself on Fire in Response to Student Poverty

Thousands of French protestors have taken to the streets of France in a show of solidarity- a student from the University of Lyon  set himself on fire to highlight undergraduate financial insecurity. Further demonstrations and unrest are planned for the coming weeks. 

 The twenty-two-year-old man, known only as Anas K, set himself alight outside of a university residence earlier in November. He is still hospitalised and in a coma after 90% of his body was burned.  

The man, who is currently in second year and studying political science at University Lyon 2, wrote a Facebook post prior to his attempted suicide explaining why he was taking his own life. He cited financial insecurity as the reason he could not go on living anymore: 

“This year I am doing the second year of my bachelor’s degree for the third time. I have no grant. Even when I had one, I received €450 a month. How can one live on that? And after our studies how long will we have to work to pay our social charges to have a decent pension?” 

He concluded his post by directly implicating French politicians and institutions in his decision to end his own life. He accused Macron, Hollande, Sarkozy and the EU for creating an uncertain future for all students and also pointed the finger at far-right politician Marine Le Pen for creating a climate of fear with her racist rhetoric. 

When asked about the tragedy, President Macron offered his condolences to the family but insisted that this was a ‘special case’. He maintained that his government had taken steps to make access to healthcare cheaper and had made commitments to help the cities where university housing is particularly expensive. 

Nevertheless, despite the pledges made by Macron, figures from the Inspectorate General of Social Affairs (IGAS) from 2015 tell a different story. It reports that 19.1 % of students in France live below the poverty line whilst a more recent study from ‘l’Observatoire’ shows that 23% of students consider themselves to have financial difficulties. 

The University of Lyon’s student union “Solidaires étudiant-e-s” of which Anas was a vocal and important member of, published a statement in the French national newspaper “Libération” offering their solutions to prevent such an event ever happening again.

They call for the complete democratisation of higher education in France, an immediate increase in the amount of financial aid students receive and an expansion in the number of students who can be eligible for grants, a complete freeze on the price of food in university restaurants, and the construction of cheap social and university housing that is close to the campus.

They recognise that their demands will cost a lot but insist that France is “richer than ever in its history”. Citing figures that show that 8% of students think about committing suicide each year (in comparison with 3% of 15-30-year olds), their final demand is a mass increase in the budget universities have for mental and physical health services.

 This shocking event is just the latest protest against President Macron’s government. The Gilet Jaunes met the police in a series of violent clashes on their 53rd consecutive weekend of demonstrations against the French state, and a nationwide transport strike is planned for the 5th of December.

Both of these events are supported by the student union of Lyon that Anas was a part of and other student union’s across France have expressed their solidarity with Anas and the wider anti-austerity movements within the country. 

Signing off his Facebook post with “long live socialism, long live self-governance, and long live social security” Anas K has opened a pandora’s box of student protest that is spreading like wildfire across France.

The Lyon campus was barricaded, classes were cancelled, and hundreds of students congregated outside the CROUS university residence to show their solidarity with the slogan “la precarité tue” (hardship kills) which quickly became a trending hashtag on Twitter. 

Image: Liberation