Christian couple provide haven of calm for young Muslim
RIVIERE, France – Annick Verger and her husband Hubert live in a charming little house in Rivière, near the city of Tours.
A librarian and history buff, Annick recalls the origin of the town’s name, which comes from the Latin riparia, meaning “nest” or “refuge”. Farah, a 22-year-old Sudanese has found a refuge with the Vergers.
He recalls: “I lived in a village in Sudan when the Janjaweed (Darfur militia) arrived. They burned the whole village and killed many people, and …” He falters, overcome by the painful memories.
“I was held prisoner for 20 days then I managed to escape. I went into hiding for two months and afterwards, I decided to leave because I was scared that they would find me.”
Farah, like many refugees, ended up in the "Jungle", the notorious makeshift camp outside the northern French town of Calais, where he spent a month before finding a place in a hostel in the city of Tours.
“I stayed there for a year, then some friends who worked for the préfecture told me that I could stay with a family if I wanted. I came here for three or four days. It went well, so I stayed.”
The project “Familles Solidaires” (Families who Care), run by the organization Entraide et Solidarités, arranges accommodation for refugees with families in the region.
"We told him right away that we were happy to have him."
To ensure the arrangement goes smoothly, the organization suggests a trial period of a few days.
“Although it’s difficult to really get to know someone in three days, you get some idea of each other’s way of life,” says Annick. “After the trial period, Farah left and each side thought about how they would respond. We told him right away that we were happy to have him and it was up to him to decide.”
Hubert says the organization played a vital role. “When people are given refugee status, they are no longer in the system and some find themselves on the street. They have their ID papers and no longer receive support, so they have to fend for themselves.
“That is why the Familles Solidaires system was created, to find places for them to stay while they find their feet and get a job, etc.”
A former local councillor, Hubert is full of praise for the organization. “To help us, they drew up a kind of contract between the person concerned and the host family. Everything is written down and all aspects of home life are covered. Meals for example - are they taken together or separately? Who cleans the communal areas? Who takes care of the washing…?”
The Vergers have a few simple rules and home life is like that of a real family. Farah has his own room, set up in Annick’s sewing workshop, and the trio sits down at the table together every evening for a nice dinner.
“The first day after I arrived, I wasn’t able to eat because the food was so different,” Farah recalls with a laugh. “It was difficult to get used to!”
For Annick and Hubert, this show of solidarity goes hand in hand with their Christian faith. They play an active part in their local church but see no contradiction in putting up a practising Muslim.
“As we see it, religion is following a particular belief, but also being open towards others,” says Annick.
“Welcoming someone who is a practising Muslim, someone who observes Ramadan, into our home is not a problem when we respect each other and each other’s beliefs. On the contrary, it is a wonderful and powerful experience … It is difficult to understand why so few people feel involved. We are very happy that we did it and met Farah. It is something we shall never forget."
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.