Afghan swaps hardship of the "Jungle" for suburbs of Paris
Weary of the problems in the notorious Calais camp, Shir Bahadar accepted a volunteer's offer to move into her apartment.
LES LILAS, France – There is plenty of room for everyone on the three sofas arranged in a semi-circle in Marion’s welcoming living room. The apartment is perfect for receiving guests.
Shir Bahadar, 26, from Afghanistan, and his 16-year-old brother Abdurrahman are sitting next to each other on one of the seats and Marion is handing them a plate of biscuits.
She starts the conversation. “Shir Bahadar, tell them how we met.”
“In Calais … and afterwards you and I came to Paris by car,” he replies, his French grammar still rudimentary but good enough to make himself understood.
“I had been going to the 'Jungle' for a couple of months to help out,” said Marion. “I did a bit of everything – peeling onions, handing out clothes, teaching French. One day, a member of one of the organizations asked me if I could give a young guy a lift to Paris for an appointment at OPFRA (the Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons).
“I was just about to go back to Paris. Shir Bahadar came with me and stayed over at my place. Since I live alone and didn’t know him, I asked if someone from the organization could stay, too.
"I could see he was nice guy, so I told him he could come back."
“It was a couple who were also going home via Paris. I think they lived in Avignon or somewhere like that. So they all slept here on the first night and the next day the volunteers left.
“Shir Bahadar went to his appointment at the OPFRA and I could see he was nice guy, so I told him he could come back.”
Over the next few months, the young man made several trips between the Jungle and Marion’s apartment in the Paris suburbs.
“I went back to Calais because it was my postal address, as well as my official residence, and my belongings were there. But there were problems. There were constant fights and I hate fighting. So, I decided I’d had enough of Calais.
“I phoned Marion and asked, ‘can I come back?’ and she said ‘come’".
The house share has continued for almost a year and a strong bond has developed between the host and her guest.
About six months ago, the Les Lilas household received news that turned their lives upside down: Shir Bahadar’s young brother Abdurrahman, whom everyone thought dead, traced his older brother via the internet.
“Actually, he was in Germany,” says Shir Bahadar. “We left Afghanistan together and were separated by the police in Bulgaria. I told them ‘he’s my brother and I want to stay with him’ but they said no.
“So, we were separated. We didn’t have phones and lost contact for six or seven months or so. He was injured and several people told me he had died. Everyone was in tears. My parents were in tears. That’s how it was. But a voice in my head said perhaps he isn’t dead…”
Abdurrahman, the miracle boy, joined his brother in France, where he was taken into care by the child welfare services. “They have done a great job,” says Marion. “When he turned up, they took him in right away, otherwise I would have put him up, of course. He was given a place in a hostel but he comes over here often, about every other day. He is welcome to come whenever he wants.”
Shir Bahadar says he is very happy to have his little brother with him in France, “and also my sister”, he adds, putting his hand on Marion’s shoulder.
This story is part of the French chapter of No Stranger Place, developed and photographed by Aubrey Wade in partnership with UNHCR, profiling refugees and their hosts across Europe. The exhibition will go on display at Ground Control in Paris, on 20 June 2018.