Breil Sur Roya – France

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After spending a week in astalli center at Palermo, recovering and helping with my fellows volunteers over there, I left Sicily and started my journey back to France. thought I did still had to stop at another hotspot I didn’t knew : the French Italian border where I knew the situation between Ventimiglia and the Roya valley was difficult for both the “migrants” and the helpers.

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I heard about the story of many local people being arrested for helping the travellers to cross, to rest etc…  Cedric Herrou,  Felix croft and some others…

I seemed that what I have always found (meaning that everything is make to disable the helpers to help) was actually taking form here as a bunch of laws making the helpers life a real struggle.

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Then I decided to go.

I packed my stuff, collected some donations in Palermo and left for the northern border.

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I arrived three days after and met straight away the people from “Roya citoyenne” a group of local helpers in the valley.

There, I met Cedric who proposed me to come to his place the day after.

His house was built in the countryside between the Italian frontier and Breil Sur Roya,  lost on a mountain alongside the road and virtually inaccessible…  Somehow lost into the wild of the Alpes.

You had to walk up to a little rocky track to access the place.

There, everything was completely different from the world you knew.

For a while,  I knew how to live off the grid thanks to my nomadic way of life, but know I was experiencing a different way of living off the society and our capitalist system…  A sedentary lifestyle which was enabling sustainability  ecology and self sufficiency.

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Cedric was a farmer. The kind of farmer capable of running his own activity by himself without relying on massive agriculture, machines and so on…  His activity was honest,  humble and enough for him.

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Most of the furniture of the place was handmade

The food was coming from the lands,  both vegetables and animals.

The water was pumped from the river and warmed by firewood.

The toilet, the shower, the garbage…  Most the infrastructure here was self sustainable and ecological.

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It made me though about this kind of off the grid community willing to return to the simplicity of a different way of life going back to the nature and the basics of living.

But more than a simple hippy, Cedric was devoting his time and place to help the migrants stuck in the no man’s land of la Roya…

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Around 20 people were living there during this time of the year,  Cedric,  two or three volunteers and ten to fifteen “illegal travellers ” who were staying here waiting to go further safely.

The guys from la Roya explained me that strangely, even being on the French territory,  the migrants here couldn’t ask for asylum yet and have to go at least to Sosfel or Nice to request the asylum…  Then,  in the valley,  these people were still risking being send back to Italy by the police if they’re catch.

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What Cedric was doing was to hide them the time for them to rest and to give them the crucial information about the tracks to follow to get to these cities without being seen and catch by the police.

He used to drive them before but,  since his attestation, couldn’t do this any more.

But even disable of driving the people, he was hosting a lot of them and was also helping the other members of the valley willing to help.

And it’s funny to realize that even with the attestation,  the court and the penalties the people were facing from the state, even being send to the police station randomly during the food distribution at Ventimiglia…  More and more people were rising against the “criminal justice ” which was making sure that you couldn’t help the people.

The anti-migration policy was somehow making people guilty of being human but most of the ones I met were taking this risk, preferring being a human in jail than a free */+$”!

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And I  spent a week with Cedric and the other “delinquants solidaires “, building storage cabin, shelves and places to facilitate the work in the place.

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As he told me,  now they were few people and a lot of needs regarding the organization…  What will it be in summer with hundreds of refugees?

Then I decided to help him by building, hoping these constructions would makes the work easier and more efficient for them.

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And it reminded me Calais and the Woodward work,  cutting wood all day long, hearing the jigsaw and smelling the wood…

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But assembling the all to create construction was kind of new and I really enjoyed seeing the things taking form little by little.

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And the migrants too were enjoying helping me out in the process till the finalisation.

Working with them was a bit like the time I was in lesvos when we were involving the refugees in the daily work…  I’d say that’s one of the most beautiful thing to share with them…  Creating something together.

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And we also went to the daily food distribution happening in Ventimiglia.

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The people from the valley were cooking meals from 8am to 6pm and then,  were going to the city to feed the hundreds of migrants stuck there without anything.

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Every distribution was a gamble…  You never knew if you was about to be arrested or if it’d go OK.

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And it was unbelievable that we had to go like dealers or criminals,  hiding ourselves from the police, just to give out food to people in need.

And of course the police was forbidding us to do so… Saying that it was about “health laws” and prevention…  Yes,  letting people starving is a well better way to solve a health problem…

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We were arrested by lucky enough not to be sent at the commissary.

And we had to leave half of the donations behind.

Sad situation that made me once again   understand the gap between our government and the situation on the field.

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So far I would say that these delinquents from the Roya valley are part of the best persons on this world.

Of course they have some problems,  their organization could works better, they have their own personality and some of them might be seen as lawless…  But their common specificity is to be human more than civilians and it’s maybe why they are seen by the governments as criminals…  Thought,  I’d do the same than them and I’m glad to feels part of this group of criminal.

The only thing sad is to realise humanity start to become illegal…

Chapter XVII – Oujda – Morocco

 

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Oujda is another city everyone was telling me about.
The place was the last Moroccan city before Algeria and the big wall that has been built to separate the two countries in bad relationship.

I’ve been told that long time ago after the war with French Algeria has pushed out of the country the Moroccan expatriates living there that created tensions between the two governments.

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Officially the border has been close for two decades now and while Algerian government was digging a hole to make the frontier impenetrable, Morocco was building a wall to make it even clearer.

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But I wasn’t going there only to see how the frontier was taking form in reality but also to discover the situation of migrants there.

As a matter of fact, like in many other place in the world the cities near the countries borders were always hotspots for migratory flows that would pass by as a transit point.
And oujda wasn’t different.

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Many of the migrants coming from western Africa (ivory coast, Cameroon, republic of central Africa, Congo etc …) were first arriving in Algeria from Mali. Then after a long struggle in the country, facing all the kind of abuse they could go through they were relieved, throw away at the border to try their chance to cross.

And that’s why most of the migrants i’ve been meeting in Casablanca, tanger, Rabat and the other place of Morocco had all entered the country passing by oujda.
Jeanne told me once that it was like a myth for her, a place she never saw everyone was referring to.

Then I decided to go there (as I couldn’t cross the Moroccan Algerian border by land at least I would go the further I could.)

On my research I get to know the association Al Wafae which was operating in the city, providing help, educational programs and life support for the migrants of the city.
After a 6-7 hours drive, the president Sabiha and the director Jawad welcomed me with all the team the day I arrived : Yassir, Dasilva, Leila, and the 4 other members of the association were very kind.

As I arrived the day of the 101th anniversary of the Moroccan flag, we didn’t work and Yassir shown me the city, the medina, the cafeterias etc … we spoke a lot about the Moroccan religion, culture and tradition, we played cards with Mohammad, Ahmed and his other friends … For a little while I’ve been experiencing a deeper interaction with the Moroccan daily life.

It reminded me that’s always strange to work along the migration topic abroad, as you’re in a country but you interact with people that have nothing to do with it, you’ll never really spend time with the true locals to taste the life as it is. Well, It reminded me that the two months I’ve been spending in Morocco where most of my time spent with Sub-saharian people, talking french, talking about their cultures etc …, complaining how bad this country was and all the kind of stuff that you can expect from a displaced person in a foreign country … And I rarely appreciate being surrounded by Moroccan who where also eager to share their culture, to learn from me and to interact (sometimes difficultly) with me. To be honest, I really appreciated these moments, learning about their stories, their dreams, their habits etc … going to the Hamam, eating local foods and stuff … it puts you in a different position than the “Westerner coloniser” one that I hate.

 

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Then we start working at the association. I met the “persons of interest”, benefiting from the different workshop that was giving Al Wafae : Cooking, Sewing, Computing, Speaking Arabic, Hair-dressing etc …

 

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And more than simply giving the workshop as I could experienced before in NGO’s in Casabanca or Rabat, Al Wafae was giving the students a diploma at the end of the classes that was enabling them to apply for an internship in a company or a shop and then to hopefully be employed or to start their own activity.

 

 

Honestly I founded it more engaging, more interactive for the migrants wh cloud include themselves into the society quicker and better as they were learning and living mixed with both Syrian, Yemenite, Morocan and Sub-Saharian … This bunch of mixed people was helping everyone to better understand each other and I’d say that I truly felt that the racism between communities was far lower here, in a place that was the most affected by the migration.

 

The common language was also a mix of Syrian-Moroccan Arabic distilled with French and English which was creating a funny universal language.

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As it seemed, like everywhere else, the biggest problem here in Oujda was the housing of people … including them and socialise with them was no longer a big issue but to make it properly the migrants still needed a descent place to stay and to live while attending their lessons, as a matter of fact like everywhere it was difficult for them to remain present to the classes if they had to look for a shelter every single day.

Unless the several difficulties, the organisation al wafae was trying its best to improve people life … Sabiha, Benyounes and all the other were devoting most of their life to this cause. And they are random people like you and me, having a job, struggling to earn their life but meanwhile, spending all of their energy in the help.

11I founded the situation in Oujda much less worse than I expected.
Of course migrants were also struggling here, poverty and misery might be one of the things that never really change wherever you go, but I would say that their global situation was better than what I experienced in the big cities.

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Here was a transit place, a smaller city than Rabat, Casablanca … and a less strategic point for the migrants like tanger or nador …
Even though the Algerian border was very close … even if people were still arriving in harsh situations … the living conditions and the society mindsets about these people was not as rude as I expected.

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It may came from the good work of the ngo’s there, which were collaborating together instead of fighting for the good work. They quickly understood that without a common work, each organisation couldn’t deal with the problem. So they created a ”protection group on the field” that was composed of different ngo like UNHCR, MdM, OMDH, IOM, Al Wafae etc … each one of them were complementing each other and were providing help at all the levels of life they could to improve the conditions of the migrants ; administrative, clothing, housing, feeding, teaching and socialising, curing etc …