L'après (The After): Resilience stories

FEDERICO IWAKAWA  |  18 APRIL 2020  |  PHOTO ESSAY  |  ISSUE 9

By Federico Iwakawa.

The mediatisation of the misnamed ‘refugee crisis’ has created prejudice, fear and pity towards people who come to European territory seeking asylum.

It seems like these people’s lives are no longer of any interest for the media once they have crossed borders and got their ‘papers’.

 

Aiming to put a human face on the migratory phenomenon, ‘L’après’ tells the daily life of two young Sudanese men who, after obtaining their refugee status in France, began a new chapter in their lives.

Othman

 

The pots steam and the winter sun slips through the back door of the kitchen that the association Saveurs d’Exil (‘Exiled Flavors’) is using today. A team of chefs, each one attending to his task, prepares the dishes that will be part of the menu for the next event. One of the chefs is 28-year-old Othman, a man of average height whose huge smile spreads good cheer among the entire team.

In 2019 Othman received two job offers: one was a full-time job at a fast-food restaurant and the other offered him 25 hours a week at the local association in Toulouse, southern France, where he was already volunteering. He chose the second one without hesitating. Saveurs d’Exil offers catering services organised by exiled people working for their common benefit. ‘I am happy to help people who are in the same situation as I was.’ Othman’s job is to give advice to migrants who come to the association looking for administrative help. He also works as a waiter and cashier at the events.

Othman is Sudanese, but like many from the East and Horn of Africa, he has spent part of his life in Saudi Arabia, a country he had to leave when he lost his residence permit in 2012. Since then he has been forced to migrate repeatedly. At first, he decided to return to his country, where he faced the strong confrontations between the Sudanese people and the dictatorial regime of Omar al-Bashir. The army’s brutal repression made him flee to Chad. Once there, he began his immigration procedures, only to receive a negative response two years later. The Chadian state denied all residence claims after the 2015 terrorist attacks. It was then when he decided to start his last odyssey, this time heading to Europe.

As most of these migration journeys, Othman’s travels to and around Europe were not easy. ‘If I had to do it again, I would not be able to do it’, he confesses while sitting on his bed under a large French flag that he has kept since the last World Cup. After a long journey across Italy and France, he finally obtained his refugee status.

Little by little, Othman’s routine began to fill up with activities. First as a volunteer in associations, then with his job and now also as a student at Capitol University where he studies French twenty hours a week. Speaking French fluently will allow him to continue his education in the future. As he has written in his class notebook: ‘I am not my past, but what I chose for my future’.

 

Abdelmageed

In a deep and friendly voice, Abdelmageed answers the door intercom of his building located in a residential neighborhood in Toulouse. The young Sudanese man, almost two meters tall and with an honest look in his eyes, opens the door, offering a handshake and a smile. Once inside, a delicious smell of spices welcomes me; Abdelmageed and his friends had dinner together to celebrate the end of exams the night before.

Mageed, as his friends know him, makes ginger coffee and invites me to sit on his couch, the same one that serves as a bed for whoever needs it. His apartment is decorated like any other student’s apartment: there are two balloons from his 28th birthday deflating next to some Polaroid-style photos, a whiteboard to write what shouldn’t be forgotten, and a poster with Martin Luther King’s famous speech (‘I have a dream’).

Mageed used to work as an English teacher, he volunteered at an association that helps people affected by war, and at night he drove a taxi in El Fasher, the capital city of the Darfur province. The ongoing economic crisis in the country, on top of a civil war that has caused more than three hundred thousand deaths since 2003, forced Mageed to leave Sudan. ‘My country has always been at war’, he tells me as he takes a sip of his coffee.

At the beginning he settled in Libya and looked for a job there. When I asked him what his job was, his answer was: ‘anything’. ‘Travelling to Europe was not in my plans, I knew that crossing the Mediterranean was not a good idea, but I had no choice…’ He arrived in Italy in August 2016, then travelled to Nice, Paris and Cahors until he finally settled in Toulouse.

 

Things seem to go better since he lives in the ‘pink city’. He was quickly able to get his refugee status and he works part-time as a delivery man. In 2019, he began a master’s degree in Crisis Management at the Institute for Political Studies with the clear goal of returning to Africa to work on humanitarian missions.

 

It’s lunchtime. While Mageed warms up the leftovers from the night before, I have a look at the photos that decorate his apartment and I see the same girl over and over again. ‘I’m dating her and we will be engaged soon’, he says.

Federico Iwakawa

Federico Iwakawa (Cordoba, Argentina, 1986) studied and worked in the tourist sector for many years. He left his hometown in 2013 to start a journey around the world. This new way of life led him to take up photography, unaware that it would become a passion. Since then, he has taken photographs for different NGOs focused on refugees and women’s rights in France, Morocco and Australia. In 2019 he settled in Madrid to study photojournalism at the EFTI institute of photography and film.

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A view of Othman’s kitchen. Toulouse, 29 January 2020.

By Federico Iwakawa