Transposing emblem by Abdennour Goumiri

Europe occidentale has been the theater of a massive exodus of people following the conflicts that erupted in Maghreb (Libye, Tunisie) and the Middle East (Syrie et Irak). Waves of migrants have crossed Turkey and Eastern Europe in search of the promised land, l’Europe. Many have ended up in France applying for asylum. In the countries located south and east de la Méditerranée, many of us think of France as an ideal world, a sort of a sacred land where people ruined by wars and misery journey to find peace at last and regain faith in life.  It is perceived to be a refuge where unfortunate people from all over the developing world take shelter and enjoy at last “Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité.”

In the Arab world, thousands and thousands of us try to reach this promised land each year. We try to set foot there either legally, through the magic door we call a visa, or by irregular means: through smugglers, land borders, clandestine boats, etc. When we finally land in France, many of us are disheartened: All there is pour les immigrants is a life full of uncertainty and questioning.

The security issues, les tensions, the rise of nationalism, the flow de réfugiés and soaring unemployment bode nothing but trouble for newcomers. Immigrating to Europe in this unsure status quo is like crossing seas with a makeshift boat. If we do not have enough energy to swim against all the tides in our way, we drown!

When we land in France, les obstacles that stand in our way are légion, and the first one is … not the customs barrier, but la barrière de la langue.

If we do not know le français, or know just a little, we are not going to catch up to this TGV train that is la société française. We need to speak decent French if we are to work, study, integrate and move across the country. English is not widely used by la population locale. We must greet people not in Arabic with Assalamu alaykoum (hello) but with a “Bonjour” articulated with a correct French R.

And then there is your address. If it is in one of the banlieues françaises immigrées (suburbs), like those of the 93rd department, and if you have a name like Mohammed, Abdallah, etc. that denotes your background. If this is the case, your integration into la société locale, as the benevolent immigrant you are, is definitely undermined.

L’environnement general is fairly hostile. La situation actuelle does not support immigration at all. L’atmosphère is tense and les immigrants are used as a scapegoat for all sorts of ills that native residents are facing. We are bombarded daily by bewildering news that saps morale. Subjects discussed relentlessly in les médias français include: waves of réfugiés from the Middle East, attacks terroristes, a state of emergency, closing borders, etc. Furthermore, des mouvements nationalists like le Front National pretending to be the voice of the peuple and population “officielle” are vocal in every election and polemically preach the necessity of repelling these “alien invaders.” Le spectre de l’islamisation is raised ad nauseam in public debates, with reference to sharia (Islamic law), burqas and halal food. No one knows what the future will bring.

When we are an asylum seeker in France, we are trapped; we have to wait years and years to apply for the great “Carte de résidence.” Negotiating les autorités administratives is a real obstacle course. As a “sans-papiers” (undocumented) person we must ask relatives and friends now and then for shelter, money and services; we have to flee the police and authorities every day, live an insecure and meaningless life. We may end up working on the black market, in the shadow of la société “officielle,” fearing constantly to be ushered out of the country. All we do is survive.

If we are un immigrant légal, the situation is not enviable. We have to constantly renew all kinds of papers (administratif, work, insurance, taxes, etc.) to preserve our “official” status. We are overwhelmed by the load of formalities to be completed. We are in the same boat.

Economically, all of us are in a precarious situation; getting a job may prove to be a real nightmare due to the ongoing difficulties économiques in Europe. If we are lucky enough to find one, we are given a position as a security guard, a supermarket cashier, a public worker, etc. Only a few obtain higher positions in a university or a ministry or the like.

As for housing, this is nothing to laugh about. Rent prices cost an arm and a leg in France. All we can rent is an HLM (low-cost housing) or a studio apartment located in une banlieue d’immigrés outside the big cities. Actually, a foreigner who earns small amounts of money, who has to pay for food, medicines, transportation, etc. cannot support himself properly when rent is to be paid at the end of the month.

If we cast anchor in the “Hexagon” forever because we have been granted citizenship, we are not off the hook yet; besides economic problems, we have to struggle amidst un océan de questions culturelles.

Many of us desire to teach our native language, traditions and religion to our progeny in order to preserve the fading memory and customs we have brought from the homeland. However, when living in this société diverse that exists in Europe, a lot gets between you and your resolutions: the way of life, the cultural values, the political system, the ideology, etc.

Par exemple, few Muslims in France celebrate Eid al-Adha (Sacrifice Feast), which is the most holy festival pour les musulmans. In fact, les autorités locales have strict regulations for sacrificing animals (sheep). Consequently, children with an immigrant background lack a very fundamental element of their parent’s culture.

Le problème is, in this quickly changing world, if we do not know where we came from and who we are, we are a boat drifting in an ocean of uncertainty. We are headed wherever the tides carry us. We are everybody and at the same time nobody.

When all the doors are closed in front of us, many of us face a dilemma: go back home or stay abroad forever. Some return. Others go back and forth endlessly between their country de residence and their pays d’origine, to see their famille, attend a wedding, a funérailles, etc. Some stay. But in part the outcome is the same in each case. If we decide to stay, we are overwhelmed by la frustration et la nostalgie in a foreign country where there are only promises and illusions. If we choose to rejoin the homeland, there is nothing but a desert of unemployment and poverty. One way or the other, the road for immigrants leads to uncertainty.

Abdennour Goumiri