Saturday, April 17

“Sleeping in a tent is better than being there”: in Lille, an evening with Ivorians in the street

In this corner of Lille, there is nothing sacred about wood like in Ivory Coast, but it allows the dragon stove to spit out a little heat. A blessing when the temperature is close to 1 ° C. It is around this artisanal stove, made from two gas cylinders, that Kanté, Emmanuel, Ali, Gnégné and Jimmy meet up morning, noon and evening to prepare their coffee, their meals and warm up.

Overcome the boredom and sadness of their situation by telling each other their “Adventures”, those who brought them from their country to this vast expanse of mud and shrubs, it is the daily lot of these young Ivorians. Not far from Old Lille, the Saint-Sauveur wasteland migrant camp hosts dozens of Africans (Algeria, Benin, Guinea, etc.). It became their ” town ” and the starting point, they hope, of a better existence. Because “Here, you need courage otherwise you go crazy”, breathes Emmanuel, 32 years old.

“Here” there is almost nothing, except barracks of planks and wooden doors, covered to prevent water infiltration. The camp, without sanitation, electricity or drinking water, is hidden behind the red brick wall that runs along the rue de Cambrai for hundreds of meters. To get to the Ivorians’ corner, you have to take corridors, trampling on plastic bottles and cans of beer. “Our shoes are always dirty”, specifies one of them, attentive to this detail which in his eyes says a lot about his precariousness.

“I no longer have a name”

At the end of the afternoon, Emmanuel is heating water in a pot. In a few minutes, he’ll be showering outside with a basin, standing on a plank, barely hidden behind a blue tarp held in place by four sticks. And when day gives way to night, it will be time to prepare dinner. One takes care of the fire, the other of the chicken, Emmanuel of the garnish. He never thought that one day he would look at his life by the light of a laptop hanging from the roof of the tent cutting onions. “In Côte d’Ivoire, I had an identity card, a status, housing, a job. Here, I have nothing more, I am nothing, I am on the street and I no longer have a name, he advances in a calm tone. But even if I sleep in a tent, it’s even better than being there. “

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It was in 2019 that Emmanuel left his country and the cybercafé where he worked in Abidjan. When he was younger, he had studied criminology, “But without finding an outlet”. He fled the Ivory Coast to save his life, he explains, because he had refused to comply with mystical rituals (the Poro), as required by his ethnic group – the Sénoufo. ” I am Christian, but we still believe in witchcraft, said Emmanuel. So because of this refusal, they wanted to kill me. ”

On his way to Europe, he says he met so many compatriots who were, like him, “Escapees” from this West African country. Some find themselves with him in Lille. This is the case of the huge Kanté, 23, Gnégné, 31, Jimmy, 25, or Ali, 29. All claim to have been threatened with death for inheritance issues or ethnic and religious differences. “The population does not live in safety with us. And we don’t talk about this total insecurity on television ”, explains Kanté, who taught Arabic in Côte d’Ivoire. “Our country is beautiful, but there is a reality that pushes us to leave”, adds Jimmy, a former mechanic. Once in France, they applied for refugee status, hoping to have it recognized that they were being persecuted in their country and unable to stay there.

“It’s the government that eats, not the people”

Like them, more than 3,400 Ivorians, often young, have made this request since the start of the year (5,682 in 2019), according to the French Office for Immigration and Integration (OFII). Which makes Ivory Coast nationals the third nationality to seek asylum in France, just behind Afghans and Guineans, specifies Didier Leschi, Director General of OFII. “That’s the whole problem because Côte d’Ivoire is not a country in armed conflict and what is astonishing is that it is even a country in full economic expansion”, he observes. A theoretical argument that Jimmy nuances: “Yes but it’s the government that eats, not the people. Is the economy redistributed to the youth? No. “

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The French Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons (Ofpra) recalls that “Among the asylum applications examined over the last eighteen months, those based on societal issues were the most numerous”. In 2019, sonly 21% of applicants have obtained protection from France, according to Ofpra, which also emphasizes that “Political motives, although in the minority, continued to be invoked and applicants raised fears of persecution in connection with the recomposition of the political space in the run-up to the legislative and presidential elections of 2020”.

In the Lille “village”, Emmanuel, Kanté and Ali followed from afar the presidential election of October 31 in Côte d’Ivoire. The turbulence which surrounded the re-election of Alassane Ouattara for a third term retrospectively validates their choice of departure. “What would have happened to me if I had stayed there?”, Kanté wonders. It’s not nice to think about it. Politicians are primarily responsible for our misfortune. “ More than 7,000 km from Abidjan, these exiles watch their country continue to tear itself apart over political quarrels between pro-Ouattara and the opposition, but not only. “For decades, the country has not been reconciled. Tribalism and regionalism have become too important and it will not get better ”, says Emmanuel. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), more than 3,200 Ivorians have just fled to Liberia, Ghana and Togo through “Fear of post-election violence”.

The Covid-19, another world

When asked if they wish to return home one day, the response from the Ivorians in Lille is unanimous. ” Never ! “, insists Ali, yet exhausted by dint of “Live in this misery”. He like the others removed their country from their projects. “There is no longer a future for us there”, argues Jimmy. So they dream of papers to settle in France, to found a family. But because they entered Europe through another country, they are placed in the Dublin procedure and risk being sent back to Spain or Italy, where they left their fingerprints. And yet, Francophones, this is where they want to live, where they have friends, too. “I want to help future generations of France”, even Jimmy says. “Every day I love this country more, even if I am homeless. We were well received by the French ”, adds Emmanuel.

After more than three hours of cooking, dinner – yassa rice is ready. Kanté, Gnégné, Emmanuel and Ali find themselves in their ” living room “, as they call one of the tents. They sit there on leatherette sofas found in nearby streets and open sacks of breads and other condiments hung high up to keep them away from mice. Guineans, who live on the other side of the camp, join them.

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Here, lit by a telephone lamp, we eat together by hand, without wearing a mask. The Covid-19 health crisis seems to belong to another world. “We had nothing at the camp”, assures Emmanuel. In any case, these Ivorians hope not to stay in the “village” for too long. “I sleep with four blankets and fully dressed”, specifies Gnégné. “I put on my gloves”, adds Emmanuel, laughing. The associations which help them, such as Utopia56, have asked the public authorities to accommodate them. But for now, no answer.

It is almost 11 p.m. Emmanuel has just called 115 for coverage. “When are we going to be accommodated? “, he asks the operator. ” I do not know, she replies, but keep calling us. Come on, good luck. “

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