REFUGEE REALITIES – FRANCE: People are not numbers

Posted by Kathryn

This blog post introduces a new way to document and track the multiple realities of refugees living in France. We call it Refugee Realities.

Refugees, volunteers, NGO representatives, etc., anyone with direct involvement in a “refugee story” can submit the story with the permission of all involved via this form. The stories will be anonymous, and only site admins will have access to the “sources” for the story. Rachel Thornton, who had the initial idea for this project, explains the concept and her motivation below. We hope that you will all join us at Refugee Realities.

Rachel, Tasha, Gaelle, Jacky


Desire to Help

For the most part my life is relatively easy. Any problems I face are not unique to me. Death of loved ones, the ‘mixed blessings’ of adolescent children, the challenge of earning a living and – like everyone living in France – despair at the endless paperwork required by the French state.

But for the rest of the time I can count my blessings. We have a small home which we own outright, our children are healthy and smart, and my husband and I get on, even after 21 years of marriage and working together. We are white, educated, middleclass and live in one of the richest countries on earth.

But seeing the refugees huddled at the side of the road in the July heat last year was a life changer. I have been unable to ignore their plight. But again, this isn’t unique to me. Thousands of us across Europe have made it our personal mission to try to do our bit; to ease the suffering of these people who are stranded so far from their own homes and the lives they once led.
We all have our own reasons for getting involved. Some are politically motivated; others are guided by their religion, for others it is a question of humanity.

We all have our own method of helping. Some rush out to the front lines, others organise in the background. Some send aid directly to Syria, others send it to wherever else there is need…
But, I believe, we are all united in our desire to make the world a more humane place. We see the bigger picture and want to make it brighter – for everyone.

We have followed the migration of these people (families and individuals) who have fled their homes to escape war, poverty, fear and intolerance. We’ve seen their struggles to reach what they hope will be the security of Europe.

And we have seen how they have been greeted.

Hope for the future

We were relieved when our governments finally acknowledged their responsibilities and we hoped that many refugees would find comfort and rest at long last. We prayed that the talk of quotas was just ‘political-speak’, that the reality would be more sensitive. We assumed that some intelligent thought would be engaged while assessing asylum applications and making decisions.

But we saw that this was not always the case.

The Reality

A few months ago I noted a number of stories appearing on Facebook which made me realise that while the physical migration may have ended for some refugees, the bureaucratic journey had not. I realised that it is important to keep note of these unseen and unglamorous tales.
One story in particular, that of an English speaking Syrian woman travelling with her three children (the middle child severely handicapped) and being ‘settled’ alone in rural France while her relatives were already settled in the Netherlands, caused me sleepless nights. I lost the original posting in the maze of Facebook and couldn’t find out how to help her. It took me two days to track the story down and follow the links back to the original volunteer who had been with her in Greece and helped compile her ‘dossier’.

Frustrated with the unwieldy abundance of posts on Facebook – where stories are so easily lost – I created a group called Refugee Realities.

I wanted a means for collecting and sharing information about what is actually happening to the refugees here in France – regardless of nationality – documenting the refugees’ own stories and showing the degree of official help (or lack of it) they have received since arriving.

Facebook as a means to record these stories is not ideal and has many shortcomings. So along with Natasha Freidus, Gaëlle Téqui, and Jacky Malotaux we have taken the original concept and run with it. We have created a more secure means of recording information while protecting the identities of the vulnerable refugees and asylum seekers.

These are stories that needing to be monitored, told and shared, either with the mainstream media or used as evidence when lobbying authorities on behalf of the refugees. They are also stories that can allow us to connect more directly with others who have gone through the same experience.

We invite you to participate… to post relevant stories. But please be aware of the privacy of the individuals and groups concerned.