Franck and his family are being housed in a welcome center in Saint-Beauzire, near Clermont-Ferrand | Photo: Private
Franck and his family are being housed in a welcome center in Saint-Beauzire, near Clermont-Ferrand | Photo: Private

Two years ago Franck* was living in difficult conditions in a migrant camp on the Greek island of Samos. Now, he and his family have been offered a home in a welcome center in France and they have a future to look forward to at last.

In September 2020, Franck told InfoMigrants about his experience living in a makeshift shelter made of tarpaulins and pieces of wood in the migrant camp in Samos. The 40-something migrant from Congo had arrived on the Greek island of Samos about a year earlier with his wife and two daughters. They were waiting for their asylum application to be processed.

In April 2021, Franck got back in touch with InfoMigrants. He had been granted refugee status but was still lacking work and any real possibility of integrating into life on the tiny island. Despite his new status, he and his family had no other option but to remain in the camp on the island in very difficult conditions. In the meantime, his wife had given birth to a little boy. At that point, Franck was feeling desperate and said he felt "abandoned" and couldn’t see "any way out of his situation."

Today, Franck has found a way out and has rediscovered his smile. This is his story.

Help for one year

"In September 2021, we left Samos for Athens. A non-governmental organization, Helios, helped us find some accommodation. The money they gave us allowed us to pay rent but it was still difficult to make ends meet and reach the end of the month with money to spare. We had to pay for everything with the money they gave us, pay rent of €350 each month, pay the bills and buy our food."

Helios started up in 2019 and offers help with rent and living expenses for refugees in Greece. It also helps them with integration into Greek society. For a family like Franck’s, Helios pays €504 per month for a year, to help them get on their feet. The Helios project is financed by the European Commission and is administered by the UN Migration Agency IOM, in cooperation with the Greek Ministry for Migration.

"I asked Helios to help me find some professional training, so that I could start to use the experience I already had. In my country, I had worked as an HGV driver, and I hoped to be able to do the same thing in Greece. But they weren’t able to offer me anything similar. Trying to find a job in Greece, when you don’t speak the language, is really a 'mission impossible'."

Part of Helios' program is to help refugees with professional training and to prepare them to access the Greek job market, so they are able to find a job in Greece. They are meant to offer links between refugees and employers in the private sector. But in reality, integration in Greece can be difficult, not to say impossible. The country, which was heavily affected by the financial crisis, has very few economic opportunities on offer in general, and especially for migrants or refugees.

'We slept on the streets of Athens, my wife and my three children'

"When the 12 months of financial aid were up, we didn’t have access to any funds and we had to leave our accommodation. For a few days, my wife, my three children and myself were forced to sleep on the streets in Athens.

A guy from Cameroon, who I had met in Samos, put me in contact with a priest. He gave us some accommodation in his church. During that period, I discussed things with my wife constantly, about what we should do.

Because we all speak French in my family, we decided we had to get to France. We thought it would be easier to find work there and also better for the children. I had held on to the last payment from Helios, thinking I might need it for the future. I used that to pay for plane tickets to Paris.

We arrived in Paris Orly airport on April 15, at about 1 in the morning. We didn’t know anyone. We were totally lost and we didn’t know where to go.

A French woman who was on the flight noticed how confused we were and offered us accommodation at her house in the Paris region for as long as it took us to find a solution. We stayed four days in her apartment and then we moved into a Roma camp nearby for a few more nights.

'My daughters are so happy to be in France'

I called the number for OFII [The French Immigration and Integration Office] and also visited an association Coallia. They helped us register with the local prefecture in the region, and we were given an appointment by OFII for May 5."

Asylum seekers based in the Paris region can contact a first welcome center called Spada via the telephone platform on OFII’s website. The platform is open Monday to Friday, between 10 am and 3:30 pm. The number is +33 (0)1 42 500 900. From inside France, the number is 01 42 500 900.

"During our interview with OFII, the authorities pointed us towards a welcome center for asylum seekers called CADA in a town called Saint-Beauzire, about 15 kilometers from the town of Clermont-Ferrand in the center of France.

The CADA center here is based in an old holiday park, and we were given a small cabin for the five of us. Since we have been in France we just feel happy and joyful. Our mood is so much better, and we really don’t feel so negative anymore.

After all that misery in Greece we weren’t sure we would ever feel like this again. My two daughters, who are 9 and 4, are going to school. The youngest, who is just one-and-a-half years old, stays at home with us. Our daughters are just so happy here. When I go to pick them up in the afternoon at the end of school, they tell me what they have done and they just seem so joyful. We never felt so welcome in Greece.

Applied for asylum in France

We have now applied for asylum once again here in France. We sent our dossier to the OFPRA [The French Office for the protection of Refugees and Stateless people] and we are waiting for an interview. I know it could be difficult, because we have already been granted protection in Greece, but there, it was impossible to really settle and integrate."

According to the so-called Dublin regulation, someone who has been granted refugee status cannot then apply for refugee status in another country. People who have already been granted refugee status in Greece risk being sent back there. But in certain individual cases, they can argue that they shouldn't be sent back there because of the difficulties of integration there.

"I have high hopes. I have provided all the proof of how difficult our lives were there, and I hope that that will be enough. I don’t want to be a weight on French society, I want to be able to work so that my family and I can live. I really hope to start driving lorries again, so that I can offer my children a better life."

*Franck’s name has been changed to protect his identity

This story was originally published in French on June 7, 2022. It was translated by Emma Wallis


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