Faruk is a refugee and spokesperson for the 16 Refugee families living in a dilapidated and disused school building in Annecy, a beautiful, affluent part of France. Slim, authoritative and incredibly personable, he is the father of two charming girls and speaks both English and French.
Faruk worked for the US army and served 12 years in both Afghanistan and Iraq.
Despite his employment history, the US wouldn’t grant visas to his family. Unable to choose between his loved ones and safety, he was forced to seek refuge elsewhere: he describes coming to France as the worst decision of his life…
Up until yesterday, he lived in this school with 80 other refugees, 41 of them children and two pregnant women.
Initially the school building was set up as a winter homeless shelter where people from all walks of life could sleep until March 31st, at which point residents were served eviction papers and expected to find somewhere else to go, in keeping with the French winter shelter guidelines.
The thing is, there was nowhere for them to go, so they stayed.
Delays in the general administration of evicting the families bought them a few extra months in this ‘stable’ abode which they made into not just a home, but a school for their children, and a place to heal and recover from the trauma they had faced.
Well, that is until yesterday, when police with loaded guns arrived at 7am and ordered everyone out, giving them ten minutes to pack their most valued possessions before locking the doors behind them. One family was put on a plane ‘home’, and others were taken to a detention centre, but most were left to their own devices: the local municipality has provided no resettlement plan or guidance for an entire refugee community.
Most of these families were not unfamiliar with the streets of Annercy. Some of them have been waiting for Asylum for up to 6 years and Faruk tells me about when his family first arrived in France in October 2012, they and other asylum seekers would be permitted to sleep at the Centre Georges Bonnet, but only from 5pm to 9am and not a minute before or after.
‘It didn’t matter if the roads were caked with snow. My wife and daughters would walk the streets trying to find somewhere warm. The shopping centres would often kick them out if they didn’t buy anything, but buy with what?
The disused school shelter was luxury by comparison.
I asked Farouk how he had spent those days. ‘I worked for a charity, Secours Populaire’ he said. For one year, they didn’t pay me anything, but it is supposed to help when you make your asylum application.’
It didn’t help. Four years on, his family still wait to be accepted and given the right to work, so this expulsion is a devastating blow.
‘If I take jobs on the black market and I am caught, that’s it; they will send me back, but we need to find money to live and eat.’
Any money any of the families had earnt over the last few months was shared between the community to buy enough food and essentials to go round. All 80 had been living harmoniously in very basic conditions for several months in the disused school.
The old climbing bars in the gym hall were used to hang washing and the battered desks and plastic orange chairs were used for dining. There was one shower that all residents used on a rota. It was organised and dignified, relatively palatial compared to the camps in Calais or Dunkirk, but the agony of their insecurity is the same.
Yesterday’s eviction needn’t have happened, but in one fell swoop these people have lost their community, stability and home, again.
The French authorities may have liberated a school building, but what have they unleashed in terms of social problems in the next ten years as these traumatised children grow up? When is long term thinking going to outweigh short term political manoeuvring?
For refugees (some 60 million forcibly displaced worldwide), it is an endless cycle of trauma, displacement, brutality and disappointment.
This particular group of 16 families provides a heartbreaking insight into what continues to happen to them around the world, as they are left to fend for themselves in new territories, often treated as subhuman or common criminals – punished as if they are the ones that have a hand in the conflicts they’ve fallen victim to.
For those of us that find this entirely unacceptable, I can only hope that we continue to highlight such injustice in whichever ways we can.
If you’d like to help these evicted families, please sign this petition for a right to abode.
Thank you to amazing tribe member Remi Olajoyegbe and her group @London Familia Refugee Support For this information
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