2016 France: The testimony of refugees

During the holiday of All Saints, more than five thousand French young people passed through Taizé in three successive waves. Among others, they met young Germans, Belgians, Dutch, Danish or Spanish, who were also on a pilgrimage on the hill, as well as

Young refugees and an Iraqi family hosted by the community prepared texts to share their experience:

My name is Ahmed and I was born in a small village in Darfur, Sudan. When I was 11, some militia destroyed my village. During the attack I was able to run away, but my family was scattered and I found myself alone. Someone took me to a camp and there I found an uncle who then brought me near to Khartoum. Later I learned that my father had been killed in the attack and that my mother, my sister and my brothers ended up in a camp in Darfur. I stayed with my uncle and in 2013 I was able to go to university to study law.

In Khartoum there is a lot of racism against people from Darfur and I had a lot of problems at the university. I was persecuted, imprisoned, tortured ... It was so difficult that I left for Libya, where I worked for four months. But people did not pay me, there was a lot of violence, and when I was told that in Europe I would find peace, equality, security and justice I decided to take a boat across the Mediterranean.

I thank the Red Cross and its rescue services helping us to reach Italy! But in this country I was abused and I did not find what I was expecting; in the camps I was advised to continue the road to France. Arriving in Nice, as it was very cold in the street, I went to the police. They let me sleep in a jail cell, but after I was told that this was not a hotel and was asked to leave. I reached Paris and spent three days sleeping under a bridge near the train station. As I got sick, some Africans advised me to go to Calais, that there I would find associations that could help me. In Calais I was told that I could be lodged in a house if I would accept to take a bus to go to another region of France.

I agreed and I took the bus, where I found other Sudanese whom I did not know. After 11 hours of travel, we arrived one very foggy evening in a small village. It was Taizé. We were afraid and did not want to get off the bus! I finally came down to use the toilets and when I came out from the toilets the bus was gone! We were greeted by the Mayor and people of the village, by the brothers of the community, by representatives of an association. And then in this village began a new story in my life.

Day after day we discovered the village and its inhabitants. People came to visit us, but we did not understand because we do not speak French! Many thanks to the volunteers, who came to teach us French.

In the group that arrived from Calais we are all Muslims, and we had no problem to be welcomed by a Christian community. We were given a room for our prayer and we are respected. Sometimes we have gone to the church to see how you pray, sometimes brothers have accompanied us to the mosque. We live together in peace.

We found a great family. One of the brothers is for us like an older brother, we have a mom and uncle in a village family. And each of us is accompanied by a local family. Once a week I go to Cluny to share a meal with my adopted family, and I thank them for giving me so much help.

Most of all, we have already received a positive response to our request for asylum. I received refugee status before the summer and so I worked three months in the summer in an agricultural cooperative. This allowed me to put some money aside so I can now study.

I have been living in Taizé for almost a year and I’ve made friends all over the world. I would tell you not to be afraid to go to meet those who are different from you.


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My name is Nemat and I come from Afghanistan. I lived almost a year in the Taizé community and I just moved into the village next door, Ameugny, in a small room that I have rent. I work in a building firm.

I come from a village in northern Afghanistan. I lived there with my parents and my siblings. I worked in my father’s shop. But because of insecurity and fear of terrorist groups, I went to work in the police, in another region of the country.

One day I was driving with other police and a bomb exploded on the road; three of my colleagues died, another and I were seriously injured. I was in a coma for a long time; I stayed three months in the hospital. Later, the Taliban attacked my village and destroyed my family’s house; two of my brothers died, along with a cousin. The rest of the family was able to escape and went into the mountains.

So I was so afraid that I decided to go to Europe. I crossed Afghanistan on foot, walking at night and sleeping by day in the forests. Then I travelled in flatbed trucks piled with dozens of people; I arrived in Greece after eight hours in a small plastic boat carrying more than fifty people. In Europe I took the bus, the train, I walked. In all, I went through eleven countries before arriving in France on 25 November 2015. The trip took me three months.

I was in Paris, then a week in Calais. I came to Taizé 4 December, with two Afghans and three Sudanese. Here we found seven Sudanese. The other two Afghans wanted to leave after two days and I remained alone with ten Sudanese. I did not speak English or French; it was very difficult to communicate with others. But they welcomed me so warmly that, with the brothers and the villagers, they have become my family.

I am a Muslim and I feel very good here among Christians. We all pray to God. I feel at home in Taizé! But if one day peace and security return to my country, of course I would love to go back.


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Eman, a mother of an Iraqi family, also spoke to young people during a meeting. She writes:

My name is Eman. I live in Ameugny with my husband Mithaq and our two boys, Manuel who is 7 and Noor who is 4. We are Iraqi Christians of the Syriac Orthodox Church. We lived in Bartella, a small town with a large Christian majority in the Nineveh Plain near Mosul.

In 2014 the Islamic State took Mosul in June. Then early August the Islamic State attacked the Kurdish peshmerga who still defended Bartella. On August 5, in the night we had to leave our house and all our property. We fled with all the inhabitants of Bartella to Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan. At first we slept on the floor, then we received a tent, then a caravan to share with another family. Then in November, we were able to live in an apartment with three rooms that we shared with two other families. We depended on aid from NGOs and churches for everything. We could not find a job. Life was very difficult, no school for the children, no prospects for the future, and we were always afraid of still being forced to flee further.

This is how the idea of leaving Iraq was imposed on us. In January 2015, we contacted a refugee friend in France. It was she who sent our file to the Taizé Community through an association in Paris. The brothers took care of getting us permission to come to France and in June 2015 we received a visa for France and airline tickets. We arrived in France on 12 June 2015. The brothers have helped us to obtain refugee status and with all administrative procedures. Now we live in peace in Ameugny; my husband works and the children go to school. We learn French with villagers who help us. We are grateful to the brothers and to the villagers who welcomed and helped us.

These days we are following the events in Mosul with great attention and we are pleased by the liberation of Bartella by the Iraqi army last week, despite the news of the sacking of many houses and churches. But our life is now in France.


Last updated: 3 November 2016