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French couple welcome LGBT activist from Mali


French couple welcome LGBT activist from Mali

Armand and Christophe decided to welcome a refugee after seeing the shocking image of Syrian toddler Alan Kurdi who drowned off Turkey.
11 June 2018
Christophe and Armand host Louis, a refugee from Mali, in their one bedroom apartment in Paris.
Christophe and Armand host Louis (left), a refugee from Mali, in their one bedroom apartment in Paris. Louis was persecuted because of his sexuality and his activities in the LGBT community.

PARIS, France – Louis fled his native Mali without a backward glance to escape persecution for his sexuality and his activities in the LGBT community. In France, he found the moral support and understanding he needed with Armand and Christophe.

“I lost my mother when I was two and my father when I was 11. When I was 16, my grandmother died, so I was living alone in Bamako,” says the elegant youth, smartly turned out in a blue suit.

“Since 2007 I had been working as a team leader for an anti-aids NGO. I gave talks on awareness-raising and prevention, focusing on gays and lesbians.”

One evening, Louis received a whispered call from a neighbour warning him not to go home. According to him, there were some men waiting for Louis who had sworn to “kill the dirty faggot”. He never went home again, leaving without taking anything or telling his friends and family.

“I had problems because of my work, but also because I am a bit effeminate. Since I was little people knew I was gay when they looked at me, although they had no evidence at the time. Since then, seeing the people I hang out with, some discreet, some less so, they understood what was going on and I started having a lot of trouble in the neighbourhood.”

After a long and hazardous journey, Louis found refuge in Paris with Armand and Christophe. The pair, who travel a lot, say they are open-minded and acutely aware of the rights and freedoms they enjoy in France compared to other parts of the world.

In 2015, they had the idea of taking in a refugee. “You know, there are some things that just touch a nerve,” says Armand. “For us, it was a tragic image that spread around the world, the photo of little Alan Kurdi found drowned in Turkey.

The world’s media published the photograph of the body of the Syrian toddler on a Turkish beach after he drowned when his family was desperately trying to reach safety in Europe.

"We thought we had to do something in the face of such a human tragedy.” 

“We thought we had to do something in the face of such a human tragedy.”           

He and Christophe contacted the organization Réfugiés Bienvenue. They had no spare room in their small Paris apartment but suggested installing a foldaway bed in their living room.

“We have a nice life here and I reckon we are in a position, and have the means, to reach out to someone who was forced to flee his homeland because of war or persecution.”  

Christophe adds: “Our awareness was raised by that humanitarian tragedy and, especially, by the crackdown on LGBT people. So, when people were forced to flee for such reasons, or were threatened because of their lifestyle, that was something that affected us greatly. At the same time, we thought it would be easier to live with someone who shared the same lifestyle as us.”

The young Malian appeared to be a perfect fit for a successful flat share. The first meeting took place in a restaurant. Everyone said yes, and the deal was done.

A week later, Louis rang the bell of the flat in the city’s eighth district.

“When I arrived on the first day, Armand and Christophe had put up decorations and a sign saying ‘Welcome Louis’. That was a surprise. I was very happy. Everything has gone well up to now. They have helped me a lot.”

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.