Retired French couple take Sudanese refugee into their home
SAINT-JOSSE, France – The generosity of retired couple Catherine Jean-Pierre Pocheron knows no bounds. Twenty years ago, they took in two girls from Chernobyl and ever since they have given shelter or donated their time to others who have had the good fortune to cross their path.
Catherine is at a loss to explain why. “It’s just the way we are. It’s in our blood.”
It was natural for them to offer their spare room to put up refugees, through the French Christian organization Secours Catholique. “We are not believers, but we are on the side of those who get things done, that’s all.”
A few days later, 27-year-old Sudanese Assadik walked through the door.
“I arrived in France two years ago,” Assadik recalls. “I spent one night in Paris then I went to Calais, hoping to get to England.”
He spent four or five months in the “Jungle”, the notorious makeshift camp for migrants and asylum-seekers, before Secours Catholique, concerned about his psychological wellbeing, decided to intervene on his behalf.
“When he came to us, he had been depressed in the Jungle,” says Catherine. “The organization asked us to put him up for a week, to give him time to recharge his batteries. He ended up staying for a year-and-a-half!”
"We go with our feelings, our heart."
For Catherine and Jean-Pierre there was no question of letting him return to life on the moors around Calais. “It was horrific up there, so we decided to ask him if he wanted to stay. He agreed, and still agrees. Eh, Assadik?”
“We go with our feelings, our heart, so we didn’t ask questions, but at first our children were not keen. You hear so many things, so at the beginning we were careful,” says Catherine knowingly. “Now I wonder how I could be so wrong!”
These days there is complete trust among all those living at the house. “You have seen for yourself that he is part of the family,” she adds, giving him an affectionate nudge on the cheek.
“For him, to be able to go to bed and sleep through the night without fear, without being afraid for his safety, is something new.”
In Sudan, Assadik worked on his parents’ farm until war forced him to flee the country.
“I travelled alone and it took me a year-and-a-half to get from Sudan to France. I went through Chad, Libya, Italy, then France.”
After all the hardships, the Pocherons’ simple and warm welcome was a great relief. “Here I have my own room. It’s nice and comfortable. Catherine and Jean-Pierre are very kind. It’s great for now, but I would like to move to the city later on, perhaps to Paris. I didn’t go to school in Sudan but here I would like to study and get a good job.”
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.