Helping Unaccompanied Minors in France

In the grand tradition (and in memory) of my mother and my Abuelita, who helped anyone, anytime, and anywhere…

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After sending out emails to a few places to see how we could help the refugees here in Paris, I received a message from “Collectif parisien de soutien aux exilé.e.s.” As I had put us down as being interested in temporarily hosting refugees, we opened our home to 4 young men (aged 15 and 16) for 3 nights. It was a wonderful experience, and I encourage you, no matter where you are in the world, to do something to help (see this post for links on what you can do). And if you’re in Paris, even if you’re like us with our tiny apartment and a 2 and a half year old, please think of hosting, especially now that those at La Chapelle, women and babies included, have been expelled,  Check out the closed facebook group “Soutien aux exilés de GdE” (PM Elise or Morgann) or contact Refugees at Home. at hebergement@refugeesathome.me.

Our experience was as followed…

Our brave, young men were from Afghanistan, and had traveled through Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, Romania, and then somehow made it to France. They have travelled without their families with them, without knowing anyone in their final destination here in France. They are so considered unaccompanied minors. They were polite, respectful, and so kind to Léon. It warmed my heart to see how protective of him they were – for example, whenever we went out, they formed this lovely human wall around Léon and his bike. It was wonderful to have 4 extra pairs of eyes watching him! They all had little brothers and sisters back home, some Léon’s age, some even younger. Beyond that, we didn’t find out too much more about them, as communication was limited. I became interested in trying to learn Dari, but my attempts made the Big Boys (as Léon called them) more confused.  I think they only understood when I said ‘Yek” which is “One” and “Man” which is “Me”. But I couldn’t stop thinking of how their families must feel. I felt very much for their mothers and fathers (those that were still alive) who were so far away, without regular news of their sons.

I very much felt like their temporary mother, and kept asking them to eat, and worried so much every time they had to go out – what if something bad happened? Would we know?  Were they warm enough? Were people being nice to them, or did they experience prejudice everywhere? Whenever I accompanied them, I saw people staring judgemently and wished I could have told them how sweet and brave each of these young men were. I can only imagine what their lives had been like, before they left Afghanistan, while they were traveling, and now that they are here in France.   In this way, I  had a very, very small window into how strong both my grandmothers must have been: my paternal mother with 10 children and my Abuelita who took in I-don’t–know-how-many folks (including my own mother when she was an infant) over the years.

What I learned is, when you have a growing toddler and 4 teenagers in the house, you really must plan your meals and shopping trips!!! I learned this after the first night when I realized I wasn’t satisfied with the amount of food we had. We didn’t have to provide them with anything as they had meal tickets (other wonderful people were taking care of their administrative and various other needs during the day), but we did anyway. We spent our breakfasts and dinners together, and during the day the Big Boys went out and about, meeting with various social services.

It was fun to learn from the guys what a typical Afghan breakfast was (through Léon’s picture dictionary), which was actually similar to our Mexican-American one: eggs scramble with onions, peppers, and tomatoes, served with flatbread. I’ve never had so many tortillas at once in my house, and I was reminded of Abuelita’s bottomless pot of warm tortillas:

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They are gone now, and I don’t know if we’ll find out how they’ll get on. We’re friends with one of them on facebook, so I’ll at least know if he’s ok. Whatever happens, I’m glad we met them.  Léon has just said “Léon suche Big Boys” and it was sad to tell him they won’t be here tonight. But maybe we’ll see them again. We wish them well and good luck for the future.

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