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He sent a photo of himself on WhatsApp in front of the Eiffel Tower, along with a little note. “In Paris, for three days. “ The last time we had seen Adem * was last summer, on the terrace of a fast-food restaurant in Mahdia, in eastern Tunisia, on a hot and suffocating night. This former employee of the nautical base of a three-star hotel had recounted his life as a « harrag », of “burner” of borders in Arabic. At the time, the 25-year-old was preparing for his fifth departure to the Italian island of Lampedusa. With six friends, he finally managed to join, on August 27, 2020 around 5 p.m., without a passport or visa, this piece of land considered the gateway to Europe.
Since the start of the year, nearly 2,000 Tunisians have taken to the seas like him, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). And according to the Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights (FTDES), more than 100 people died between January and April. “Me, I burned without burning myself”this Breath.
On a terrace which dominates the heights of Paris, the young man finishes his cigarette while contemplating a sea of buildings. This handsome boy with the laughing face still has a determined tone and gaze, but his skin is no longer darkened by the sun.
” Like a man “
That it seems far the day when the young Tunisian set foot in Lampedusa … Arrested on his arrival on the island, he was placed with his companions in quarantine in a boat, Covid obliges. To avoid a faster expulsion, Adem does not tell those who question him that he was the sole rider of the tire, this is one of the lessons he learned from his previous attempts.
Transferred to a detention center in Bari after medical isolation, he thinks he recognizes a familiar face, that of a Tunisian official whom he met during his first attempt, in 2014. “I told him cash: ‘The last time you kicked me out, what did you win? I just want to live. I’m not a thief.” He behaved like a man. He didn’t sign my eviction notice. “ After a month in detention, Adem is released with a laissez-passer by the Italian authorities. Officially, he has a few days to leave the territory.
The young man has long dreamed of this precious sesame. Admittedly, he enters Europe through the smallest of doors, but the essential is elsewhere: a new life is opening up after years of uncertainty. Once released, he goes to Palermo where one of his aunts lives and finds a job as a farm worker. In greenhouses, he pulls weeds, eats dust by picking tomatoes and eggplants alongside other undocumented migrants. After weeks without pay, his boss agrees to pay him 10 euros a day, double what he earned when he drove jet skis for tourists in Mahdia. “After several months, I was getting 35 euros because I had more experience. This job broke my back. I can no longer see a tomato and an eggplant ”, he blurted out with a burst of laughter.
With the money accumulated, he was able to afford some clothes and finance the trip to Ventimiglia, the last stop before France. The rest he sent to his parents. But before arriving at the border, the young Tunisian had to cross La Botte by bus, more discreet than the train, passing from large towns to large towns. During this trip, he must avoid police checks at all costs.
To avoid the risk of being arrested, Adem explains that he took care to blend in with the crowd: always dress well, pay for his transport ticket, remain polite… In short, do not attract attention. And then, he speaks Italian (not French), learned by dint of being around tourists. “I slept in parks, on the street. With the cold and the Covid, it was not easy “, he says.
Once he arrived in Ventimiglia at the beginning of May, another difficulty awaited him: crossing the border without being spotted. There, he meets smugglers. Tunisians, Moroccans, French… the migrant is spoiled for choice. “There is a real market and scams too. Everyone wants to take advantage of us, especially the French ”, he assures. He meets two Tunisian brothers in whom he very quickly trusts. Claimed price? 200 euros. It starts at night through the trails: 20 km hiding from the police, cars, sometimes through a tunnel … ” I was afraid “, he confides.
“Give me my chance”
At sunrise, he finally sees France. Chin. Nice. A last bus to reach Paris. “I arrived at Bercy station in the middle of the night. For the first time in ten months, I was finally relieved. In the morning, I called my mother ”, he recalls. The first few days, he sleeps outside and takes the opportunity to visit the capital. “I went to see the Champs-Elysées and the Eiffel Tower. I didn’t know that in the City of Light, there were dirtier neighborhoods than in Tunis ”, he wonders.
Today, Adem is staying with Tunisians in a distant suburb. They are friends of friends who, like him, were undocumented before being regularized. Out of solidarity, they agreed to accommodate him without compensation. The young man has already found a job, inevitably on the black: “As soon as I arrived, I looked for work. I went to the Arab quarters of the city to get information and to the construction sites. Today, I am a mason. “
After more than two hours of telling his story almost in apnea, he wants to clarify that “Immigration is psychologically difficult. Loneliness is terrible. “ From his journey, he remembers an encounter with a woman, originally from Sfax, a town located not far from his own. “ Her husband lives in France, but she could not get papers to join him. So she took the boat with her two babies under her arm. That really shocked me, he says moved. Anyone can one day be a migrant. “
Adem knows that France is not an El Dorado. If he had had the choice, he would have stayed in Tunisia. “I love my country, I never thought I would leave it. I just want to work a few years, help my family and go back one day ”, he promises himself. He is also aware that undocumented migrants can be looked down upon. So he only asks for one thing: “Give me my chance. I did not come to sell drugs. I will do everything to be the best person I can be. We have to present the best image because others will come behind us. “