Ten days ago, a hundred of South Americans were expelled from a building by the CRS in Saint-Ouen.
Louisa, a committed photographer, a young woman who is always in the fields and in the front lines, urgently calls us to help them. My cousin and I immediately drive to the city hall of Saint-Ouen. Our car was full of hygiene products.
We have difficulties in finding the right place and ask the people from the neighbourhood to help us. Nobody seems to know the place we’re looking for. I desperately call Louisa to ask where she is but she doesn’t answer. I ask to the young people joking together but they don’t know the place either.
As we walk through the square, we can see a group of people in a kind of camp. We can see a matress, something that looks like a barnum, a caddie full of stuff… probably the only things they could take before leaving the building.
The atmosphere is tense. The faces look tired. Everyone is busy with their mobile phones stuck on their ears. The emergency situation is more than palpable.
I never move without my Canon Mark IV camera. Everybody looks at me with curiosity. Do I look suspicious? As usual, I have to be careful. I try to show some friendly signs: I greet people, I introduce myself, I tell them that I’m looking for my friend Louiza. It’s already 9 pm. It’s getting dark. It’s a warm evening of August 2019. I wonder where they’re going to sleep and where is Louiza.
The D.A.L and the committed people are present. Everything seems well organized: theyset up the barnum. There are matresses on the dirty floor. A chaotic but good vision.
And then, I keep asking myself “Do I take photos?”,“Is it bad? “, “Is it voyeuristic?”. I would like to give the hygiene products but to whom and how?
I try to observe all around and to communicate with the leaderships. I feel some kind of suspicious. They apparently believed I was a cop!
I meet a strong and smiling man, lying on a mastress, laughing with his friends. It’s Pavel, a cute and an amazing man of 53 years old! He’s a father and a political refugee. A man who is always in a good mood. He learns French with Abajad Association. We talk together in Spanish, English and “nearly French”… He’s telling me his incredible life!
He spent some time in jail because he was a resistant of Castro’s regime. He is proud to show me his family photos and his illegal demonstrations. He fled to Surinam where he stayed for two years before reaching the French Guyane. He arrived in Paris four months ago. However, he works and has a political refugee statut. He was expelled from his temporary accommodation with no right to take his personal belongings except one or two caddies.
He had time to visit Paris. He misses his wife and his children. He is grateful to France and is very proud to live here. He has nothing but he keeps smiling and is happy. What happened in Cuba?
What about Philippe, such a committed person? He notices that I’m rushed and pushed here and there so he immediately comes to meet me. He introduces his Cuban wife and another refugee family. I interview them in a quiet place under the kind eye of our French translator. But I still don’t know where is Louiza.
Nour KHALFAT –
Traduction – Master Langues