A picture of Amadou Diallo | Photo: DR
A picture of Amadou Diallo | Photo: DR

Four years ago, Amadou Diallo arrived in Greece as a 16-year-old unaccompanied child from Guinea. Since arriving he has fought hard for his education and the right to asylum. Finally, at the end of July, after several failed attempts he was granted not only the right to asylum in Greece but with it, the path to take up a university scholarship in Paris.

You could say that Amadou Diallo is one of the lucky ones, although his path to his current 'lucky' position has been anything but easy.

Amadou Diallo was born in Guinea, in West Africa. After his father died, reports The Guardian newspaper, he and his brother were sent to live with his stepmother who then "sold him to the owner of a gold mine." There, Diallo, along with lots of other children, was forced to work. When he tried to escape he was "caught and brutally punished."

Journey to Europe

Eventually though, he managed to engineer an escape and crossed the border into Mali, heading northwards until he made it to Turkey. According to the Guardian, Diallo's journey took him about two months. From Turkey he boarded a boat and arrived on the Greek island of Lesbos, and from there he made his way to Athens.

On arrival in Athens, Diallo was "spotted by an aid worker who brought him to a children's shelter run by the Home project, a non-profit organization." Because Diallo was alone and unaccompanied, the Greek authorities classified him as "vulnerable" and gave him temporary protection status.

Dreaming of an education

Diallo says he had always dreamed of gaining an education. In the center, he told the Guardian that he learned Greek and English. He could already speak French. The center staff identified him as intelligent and after struggling in a Greek school because of the language, Diallo found a private French school in Athens, French-Greek Lycée Eugène Delacroix. Staff helped him arrange to sit the entrance exam there, which he passed.

Diallo said this enabled him to "prove [to] them what I'm able to do if I get help." Despite embarking on a long battle to obtain asylum before he turned 18 and trying to process the traumas of his past, Diallo excelled at the school and did so well, he was offered the chance to study, on a full scholarship, at the prestigious Instituts d'Etudes Politiques (Sciences Po) university in Paris. This is one of France's elite institutions where many of those who hold leading positions in government or the private sector study.

Without asylum though, Diallo faced losing this opportunity. He was rejected twice by the Greek authorities and his ID was taken away from him. Diallo told the Guardian he found going out on the streeets "nerve wracking" in case he was checked by police. He was also worried he might be stopped in front of his classmates. "It's like a criminal or something, not having an ID," he said.

Support from France

But after his case was written up in the French media, students at Sciences Po started a petition and his case came to the notice of the French government. On July 22 the government released a press release saying the whole country was “mobilized behind Amadou Diallo.” They said that, in June, the Europe minister, the foreign minister and the interior minister mobilized support, in conjunction with their counterparts in Greece to demand French President Emanuel Macron to allow "this talented young man" into France in order "to take up the scholarship offered to him by the higher education establishment."

The appeal was tweeted by Minister for Citizenship in France Marlene Schiappa, who explained that Diallo was "stuck in Greece" and that the French diplomatic authorities were working with the Greek authorities to "find a solution. France is ready to welcome him!" Schiappa added.

They said that the French consular authorities in Greece made sure that his visa request was processed "as quickly as possible" in order to obtain a permit to stay in France. They issued a thank you to the Greek authorities who granted him the possibility of taking up residence in France. And tweeted the successful conclusion on Twitter.

'The wait is agonizing'

According to an article in Le Monde, Diallo's asylum case should have been heard in May but it was delayed because of the restrictions placed on the country in order to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

"The wait is agonizing," Diallo told Le Monde at the beginning of July. "After three years of this process and two rejected appeals I am desperate." In Paris, the university authorities told Le Monde that they had put in a plea in Diallo's favor directly with the French ambassador in Greece who had been "following this unusual case carefully."

When he was finally granted refugee status, InfoMigrants French called up Diallo for an interview. He told them that he was told the news by some friends who had seen it announced on social media. Diallo says he "checked his social media feeds and saw [that what they had told him] was true." He said that the association which had been helping him through the process had hoped to announce it as a nice surprise but that his "friends had got there first."

'Relief and joy'

Diallo said his first feeling was "one of relief." And then "a huge amount of joy." He had been "waiting for this moment for four years. […] it was the end of a long journey." Diallo said he didn't expect to have got so many people behind him and that he was "very surprised" about the reaction to his case. "I was very moved by the solidarity people showed for me. It made me feel less alone. It was a real turning point for me and allowed me to start hoping again," Diallo said.

For Diallo, getting to Paris and being able to study at Sciences Po is "like realizing my dreams," he said.

After making a speech about the Rwandan genocide in his school, his history professor told him about Sciences Po and encouraged him to apply. "I'm passionate about international relations," says Diallo. His history teacher told him "that I had potential and she helped me prepare for the entrance exam with the other pupils [who were intending to apply]," Diallo explains.

Fighting poverty and social exclusion

Diallo says he hopes, after graduation, "to work at the heart of the United Nations Development Fund (UNDP) in order to fight against poverty and social exclusion. Africa remains a priority for me, because it is one of the continents that most needs help at the moment."

Diallo concludes with a message for the thousands of other migrants stuck, like he once was, on the Greek islands and hoping and dreaming of a better life elsewhere in Europe. "I would like to tell them to take their studies seriously. Education is the key that can open all those doors," Diallo states simply.

To the Guardian, Diallo says that through all those years of waiting and studying he made sure he tried to view things in a positive light. "I also try to remember that a lot of good things happened to me. I have access to education, something that I [always] really wanted."

Now that he is on the cusp of realizing his dreams, Diallo explains that the weight of responsibility weighs heavily on his shoulders. "I wanted to be safe, and now I'm thinking that I can do more, I just need to work more and take more initiatives in my life. I learned that we always have to try, to not give up, just keep trying," he concludes.

This feature is based partly on a translation of an interview in French on InfoMigrants French conducted by Leslie Carretero and partly on a long feature in The Guardian newspaper about Amadou Diallo by Fahrinisa Campana.




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