Tunisian migrants stuck in limbo

Many of the migrants who slipped into Europe after perilous sea journey earlier in the year receive little support.

    [Briag Courteaux/Al Jazeera]

    Mizo, left, was in the first boatload of migrants who left the southern Tunisian coastal town of Zarzis after the Tunisian Uprising led the Tunisian costal guard to halt its sea patrols. Having worked as a fisherman, he found places for himself, his brother and his cousin, $1,400 a head, on January 29.

    The three of them are now part of a group of 30 migrants living in the Buttes-Chaumont Park in northeast Paris, after having been evicted from an abandoned building nearby belonging to the former regime. As many as 20,000 migrants are reported to have landed at Lampedusa, many of them homeless in Marseilles, Lyon and the French capital.

    [Briag Courteaux/Al Jazeera]

    "I want to find honest work, build a future, a home, earn a living and not to remain in this situation," Mizo says. He says the Tunisian authorities should be doing more to negotiate with the French government about the plight of the recent migrants. The revolution may have brought political freedom, but Mizo and the other migrants told Al Jazeera that they may have to wait many years before that turns into economic development.

    [Briag Courteaux/Al Jazeera]

    Dozens of young Tunisian men spend their days and nights in another park in northeastern Paris, Belleville Park. Some pass their time in groups, while others, like Kamel, are alone. "In Tunisia, the French sleep in five-star hotels, but in France, Tunisians sleep on the streets," says the 24-year-old, who is from the southern Tunisian town of Tataouine.

    He took a boat to Lampedusa in March, and travelled to Paris by train, via Marseille. He hopes to find work as a plumber. The Italians give him a six month visa for the EU's Schengen zone, so he says he should be able to work in France.

    [Briag Courteaux/Al Jazeera]

    Khaled Nefati, centre, a Tunisian who has lived legally in France for many years, regularly visits groups of migrants with his 7-year-old son to bring food and company. "Through human solidarity, we can find a solution for any problem," he says.

    The local council has done everything it can do, in his opinion. "As for the [French] politicians, both on the right and on the left, they really haven't done much," he says.

    [Briag Courteaux/Al Jazeera]

    The migrants say they want housing, work and residency permits. The Islamic month of Ramadan began on August 1, which means that members of the group are fasting during daylight hours. Life on the streets will be particularly tough for many Tunisian migrants during this period.

    [Briag Courteaux/Al Jazeera]

    The youngest members group in Buttes-Chaumont Park sleep on a ledge, giving them more protection from outsiders. The police make regular intrusions into the camp, destroying their gear, arresting them for short periods of time, and even teargased the migrants in the park one night.

    Many of the Tunisians who have been living without any shelter in France since earlier this year are minors. The youngest member of the group in Buttes-Chaumont is 15 years old. 

    [Briag Courteaux/Al Jazeera]

    "One has the impression that they have been abandoned," says Mona Hammami, another volunteer who visits the group in Buttes-Chaumont almost everyday. Hammami, a member of Al Majd, a centrist political party founded in March, says that Tunisia's state of political flux means that no one from the government or the consulates is stepping up to help the migrants find a solution.  

    She worries that with summer here, many of the volunteers working with the migrants to provide food, medical help and support authorities will go on holiday, and they will be in an especially difficult situation.

    [Briag Courteaux/Al Jazeera]

    Bilal came to Paris in early March, after he managed to get a free ticket over on a boat to Lampedusa. We find him laughing with friends at the Belleville market, in the 20th arrondisement, a part of Paris which has a long history of welcoming working-class migrants, particularly those from North Africa, Eastern Europe, and more recently, Asia.

    Bilal is sharing a small apartment with three other friends, and has been able to find odd jobs. He hopes to work in IT, but says finding stable employment would be far easier if he had French residency papers.

    [Briag Courteaux/Al Jazeera] 

    "Nearly everyday, we do exactly the same thing," says one migrants, who prefers not to be quoted by name. Some migrants say they have had enough of life on the streets of Paris and would like to go home.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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