In 2018, 17,000 young migrants were declared minors in France. The recognition of their minority status gives them access to the French Child Welfare services. It also enables them to attend school and ensures that they will not be expelled by force from France. But it often takes a lot more than that to help isolated children and adolescents grow and plan for a new future.
The end of the journey
The arrival on French soil was supposed to mark the end of a long and arduous journey. For if the routes are identified before leaving: the Eastern Mediterranean route via Greece, the Central Mediterranean route via Italy, or the Morocco-Spain route, many people have little idea how long the crossing will take or the difficulties they will encounter. These are children who for several months will cross the Sahara desert by foot and in jeeps, expose themselves to human trafficking networks in Libya, and take to the sea in overloaded zodiacs for several days on the Mediterranean.
On arrival, the first contacts with the French administration are aimed to determine the age of young migrants by means of the identity documents presented, questionnaires or bone tests, the reliability of which is still being debated. If their minority status is proven, they are no longer threatened with expulsion but find themselves in an unknown country and without family support.
Schooling as the first factor of integration
Children and teenagers arriving in France have been out of school, at the very least, since they left home. These few months or years spent on the roads and far from school benches have not prepared them for a quick return to schooling.
While waiting for the verdict on their minority which will condition their entry into school, associations and volunteers are therefore offering school support to these isolated young people. The aim here is to prepare for the aptitude tests that will decide the level at which they will enter the French education system. The challenge is twofold: to return to a regular rhythm of work as well as to the academic level that they were at before. Indeed, in this new life, time is running out: it is necessary to quickly integrate training and/or access a job that will justify a residence permit at the time of majority. They will often prefer short studies or a struggling sector that is recruiting in the medium term. Each year of study counts, and any reflection on the various orientations is limited by this time factor.
The challenge is twofold : to return to a regular rhythm of work as well as to the academic level that they were at before
As the level of pupils ranges from primary to high school, anyone wishing to get involved in a tutoring mission is able to do so. In France, structures such as Tous Bénévoles, Jeune et Bénévole, or Atouts Cours offer to connect volunteers and pupils. It is mainly with the support of these volunteers that Baba, a Senegalese teenager, managed to enter a school in the Paris region in the second year of secondary school, two years ago. Thanks to his perseverance and commitment, Baba is now in his final year at the age of 17. He will then take the STL (Laboratory Technology Sciences) baccalaureate, which will prepare him for a job in the pharmaceutical sector. His professional project, which has matured over the last few years, now allows him to approach adulthood with confidence despite the uncertainty of his situation.
Football makes it possible for them to find a community, a family, a place where solidarity is the rule.
Outside school hours, Baba plays football, like many young people of his age and like a large number of isolated minors. However, in the daily life of an undocumented teenager, even football remains a complicated story: no licence, no club, no training. It is in the light of this situation and in order to fight against inactivity and discouragement that Maud Angliviel, a lawyer, decided to create the association Melting Passes in June 2016. The club allows young people to play, to meet and gather together but also to take on more responsibility by getting involved in the running of the association.
This social link that they have lost when they left home needs to be re-created within the support of shelters, schools or other associations accompanying migrants
Melting Passes’ Volunteers faced administrative and logistical hassles to find a championship that would host the team as well as fields for trainings and outfits for the games. FC Melting Passes finally joined the FSGT league (“Fédération sportive et gymnique du travail). After two successful seasons, they even managed to secure a place in Division A, the highest level of the federation, last spring.
Their achievements, and the work of the volunteers beside them, are featured in Mathias Pardo’s excellent TV documentary “Just kids” (available in France on Canal+, extracts above). The film follows three of the players, Steve, Issouf and Dian Malal in their daily lives. Appointments with Child Welfare, summons to the judge’s office, and Saturday afternoon’s games, one discovers the strength and character of these teenagers. After risking their lives to come to France, they are desperately looking for that new beginning which first motivated the journey.
Bringing young migrants out of isolation
Between the cost of the journey, the hopes of the loved ones left behind and the hardships endured during the crossing, these young people move forward in a world where failure is not an option. A heavy pressure to bear, whether they are 13 or 18 years old. Even if they show a maturity and willpower that is rare at their age, they need support and advice. This social link that they have lost when they left home needs to be re-created within the support of shelters, schools or other associations accompanying migrants, but also with the other students, volunteers or social workers they meet. Whether it is through football or schooling, isolated minors are breaking out of isolation.
Through these Stories, Azickia aims to highlight social impact initiatives, in France and around the world, while not necessarily adhering to all the opinions and actions implemented by them. It is and will remain in Azickia’s DNA to fight against all forms of discrimination and to promote equality for all.
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