Georji: 'My life is in France now'

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In contrast to the controversial French government policy this summer of organising mass expulsions of Roma, local authorities in the Greater Paris Region run six social reinsertion camps, tactfully called 'villages', aimed at integrating them into more stable social conditions. In the third of our five-part series, Georji Stoynev, 36, speaks of his experiences in one of the camps, in Bagnolet, living with his wife in 12 square metres shared with two other men - and how he has finally gained a ten-year residence permit, legal employment and a home.

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 © E.Berthaud © E.Berthaud

 

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In contrast to the controversial French government policy this summer of organising mass expulsions of Roma, local authorities in the Greater Paris Region run six social reinsertion camps, tactfully called 'villages', aimed at integrating them into more stable social conditions. In the third of our five-part series, 36 year-old Bulgarian Rom Georji Stoynev recounts how he and his wife have, after nearly two years in the Bagnolet camp, finally found a home, regular work and a long-term future.

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"I come from Targovichte, a town of just over 50,000 in Bulgaria. I went to school from the age of seven to 17. When I was little I dreamed of meeting Michael Jackson and becoming a footballer. At 18 I did my military service, then I did several cash-in-hand jobs in the building trade."

"I arrived in France on September 19th, 2002, with two friends. An acquaintance who was already here had encouraged me to come, saying that I would be able to find a job. When I arrived in Paris I slept in the Metro or in squats. I also lived in a shantytown in Bagnolet where there were around 100 people."

"In 2008 I moved into the Bagnolet reinsertion village with my wife, Zhana. For almost two years we shared a 12m2 room with two other men. It wasn’t right. It was difficult to get any privacy. The toilets, the showers, the kitchen and the laundry were shared between the village'’s inhabitants."

"Visitors were not allowed. It’'s true, that rule annoyed me a bit. I remember that my brother, who lived in Marseille, came to see me in Paris. He couldn’'t come in, he stayed outside… That wasn’t right. I don’'t really know why it was like that, for security, so that other people didn'’t move in here perhaps."

"At the time I was working cash-in-hand in construction. I had jobs here and there but nothing regular. I never had the time to take a French course, so I learnt the language by myself, at work and in the street."

"Slowly it got better, and we found solutions. Zhana is a cleaner, and I managed to get a CDD [a fixed-term contract] for one year full time as a cook in a cantine. The ALJ [the charitable association that manages the village] helped me find this job. I started five months ago. I’'ve received a ten-year residence permit. My application was dealt with quite quickly. In a month I received a docket that allowed me to work for three months, then the residence permit. It has taken longer for my wife, 12 or 13 months of waiting."

"We don’'t live in the Bagnolet reinsertion village any more. We’ve just found a place to live, a one-bedroom flat at Porte de Pantin, with the help of the association SOS Habitat. With our two small salaries we can pay the rent of 550 euros a month. Now I can invite who I want. Yes, it’s my own place… Finally… Yes, it'’s my own place."

"From time to time I go back to Bulgaria. But almost all the people I know have left for Belgium, Italy, Poland. My life is in France now.”"

 

Next in the series: Stefan's story

 

English version: Alison Culliford

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