“Undocumented migrants live in public spaces in exchange for police action”

How have you worked on coming up with so many detailed stories in this book?

I met 300 people of 40 different nationalities under legal support in local detention with Cimade from 2007 to 2009. Ten years later, I continued to see certain people. I was especially close to six of them. At Masséré Sissoko, for example, we saw each other every Sunday. I have logged 40 appointments with him.

How is everyday life disrupted by the threat of being arrested?

The way of living in relation to the threat is very different depending on the person. For example, a man never left his home, while Masséré Sissoko had a great ability to get out of dangerous situations. He knew by heart the exits of the subway, where there were police checkpoints, and he always adapted to the appearance of a policeman. He bought a backpack with an inside pocket to hide his fake ID. Everything was calculated according to the possibility of being arrested. If his supervisor at the construction site parked his van in a forbidden place, he would ask him to park it somewhere else. He knew it could lead to a check and therefore to an arrest.

You address the fact that bodies are transformed in the face of threats. What do you mean ?

Homeless living in public space as victims of police efforts. They remove the marks that may make them appear undocumented in the eyes of the police. There, the stereotype is built on decades of migration policy: they are single men from sub-Saharan Africa and North Africa who have come to feed their families. And who works with construction or cooking, crafts and safety. There is the idea that one should disappear in relation to police control.

How is this adaptation expressed?

There is a cross in between racial and social stereotypes. The people I interviewed are aware of this and are trying to play on some visual cues.

They adapt in different ways: cut your hair, do not have a backpacknot having their hands full of plaster when they return from the construction site, and looking more like a dynamic leader than a construction worker. construction

In addition to adapting, undocumented migrants sometimes have to call in outside help. You mention the story of a man named Bassirou Dembele. What happened to him?

Bassirou Dembele is a paperless person who borrowed papers from someone to get a job. When the latter needed the papers, he reported Bassirou to his employers and lost his job. So when I met him, he went to the markets early in the morning and asked if he could help for 10-15 euros or he was going into construction shops and in construction to get a daily job.

He was also a sub-tenant and realized that the tenant of social housing put the money in your pocket without paying the rent. We went to the landlord’s office, to the association Droit au Logement, then to the association Droits devant. No one has found a solution. He was undocumented for the housing association, and the undocumented association was only professionally competent. After that, he disappeared for me.

You write that with the papers it is the end of indignity. What do you mean ?

I will give you an example. With one of the people I met in detention, Dario Ashadoo, we played football together. Afterwards we were to eat with my friends. To the question: “How did you meet?” he always replied: “On a football field”. Even with friends, he did not want anyone to know he was undocumented.

Why ?

The less people know, the more we protect ourselves from abuse. Some bosses can take advantage of the corveability and weakness of undocumented people who will do anything to keep their jobs. Masséré Sissoko had given a fake identity card to her boss. During the five years he worked, it went a long way, he mowed his boss’ lawn on the weekends. After five years, he realized that the boss did not declare it when he made him believe that he kept the payslips so as not to burden him. It was he who had rolled it in flour.

Also undocumented internalize the derogatory image the media has of itself: the foreign profiteer who wants to abuse trust. When Dario Ashadoo told me about his romantic adventures, the moment of revelation was always feared, though it generally went well. Most of the time for young women it did not mean much. But others, like a man named Mohamed when he told a girl he was in a relationship with that he was undocumented, he has heard nothing.

Does all this have consequences for mental health?

Living on a daily basis when everything is potentially an object of anxiety can have an impact on mental health. Also, the fact of always tackling with false papers, not showing up for who you are, is a disorder: not being able to live in your name, to assume who you are, to exist in public, to take advantage of that existence, that seems to be normal .. All this makes many feel that they are living a diminished life that is not worth living. Many say, “I want to kill myself”. No one has done anything, but many have talked to me about it.

I end the book with a scene of a gentleman who has lost his footing. He makes inconsistent remarks, does not answer questions. I have met many people in these cases of “mental precariousness” – I use this term because I’m not a doctor. This is to show that this is also the consequence of irregularity. This is not an isolated case. Many said:

“I’m going crazy.”

Throughout the book, there is the question of whether Masséré Sissoko will procure his papers. He got them after 11 years. But the feeling is bitter, we almost say to ourselves: “All that for that …”

I thought the same thing too. I have never seen Masséré Sissoko have more pain than the year after his regularization. There is the disappointment of realizing that the papers do not decide everything. When you have worked for ten years as a worker, it is not because you have papers that everything is decided. You have maneuverability, you are known as such. He said this very sad sentence to me:

“I have more skills than masons. But a black mason does not exist. »

Over time, his situation improved a bit. He was trained to drive construction machinery. He is still in the meantime, but by handling the hammer and shovel he is living better. There is also this disappointment of realizing that behind the lives of undocumented immigrants there is an immigrant life. He’s still in a home, in the same room. He has to live a life where father sees his children every three years.

The goal was to make undocumented people more visible?

None. Basically, it really was a topic of research: how do you live near danger? It can be another danger. You will find insecurity in other circumstances: natural disasters, civil war … That was what interested me. It was to understand how people take the same metro but do not see the city the same way. There is the idea that it can not be expressed. Many said to me:

“You can not understand.”

Leave a Comment