The making of #libedesrefugies

The phone call

It all started with a small miracle. I got a phone call from Philippine, who is Account Manager at Fred&Farid, while I was in the Singa open space at Kiwanda. You may not realize this, but everyone moves around all the time in the open space, and answering the phone is not a very popular activity. Sometimes, one person is kind enough to answer the phone for a whole day, which earns them a halo and the eternal gratitude of their colleagues. On other days, the phone jumps from one person to the next, until the person who feels guiltiest picks it up.

That morning, I was in the open space at Kiwanda, at the desk with the phone, and it had been ages since I had taken my turn in the good deed department.

The phone rang.

When I hung up, I did a little victory dance in the corridor, then sat down purposefully at my computer. It was time to find some journalists.

The instructions from Fred&Farid, the agency that had initiated the project with Libé, were pretty flexible:

  • To have an idea for a subject
  • To be motivated by the project
  • To know how to write in your mother tongue.

Easy.

I also told the fantastic Trait d’Union team — Celia, Marianne, Constance, Jeremy, Xavier, Alexandra… You can’t keep that kind of news to yourself, and I knew we would all need to join forces to coordinate this project. I sent an e-mail to around forty people, and soon got plenty of replies. Not surprisingly, everyone was motivated.

Fred&Farid

A few days later, we organized our first meeting at Kiwanda, so that the Fred&Farid team could introduce themselves to us and vice versa, and to agree on a precise framework for the project.

First meeting between Trait d’Union and Fred&Farid @Kiwanda

There were about ten of us, busily working around the little turquoise table on the first floor. Nicolas and Thibault from Fred&Farid described their vision of the project. Their objective was a special issue of Libé, where individual personalities could express themselves. Just imagine: the Libé newspaper arrives in your mailbox one morning in March. You hold it up close to feel the pages, which are still slightly moist, because this is as much part of the pleasure as opening the paper and diving into its contents. Then you start reading. Something seems a little bit different, but you can’t quite tell what. As you finish swallowing the back cover, you find out that the paper was not written by Libé journalists, but by people who happen to have requested and obtained political asylum in France. Wouldn’t that be a better way to change perceptions than any other article, photo or speech? Just a little shock, a small jolt of surprise at the end. We all totally agreed, and exchanged high-fives with Nicolas and Thibault.

“Libération”

A few days later, it was time for us to realize that the project was really happening: we were going to meet the Libé journalists. An unfortunate turn of events meant I couldn’t attend the meeting; I had to be in Brest for a radio documentary festival. For a while I thought I might be rather bitter about this, but in the end I forgot all my woes as I sat facing the deep green ocean where multiple rainbows seemed to have taken up residence. Celia, Marianne and Louise were at the meeting though.

The meeting with Libé, through Louise Plantin’s eyes.
“We have invited you here so that you can take this paper and do what you like with it, with our help, and with the help of the whole newspaper team. At Libération, we have written reams about refugees and their situations, but we thought it would be much more profound if you could tell us how you see French people today, with your background, your experience, and your culture. What would be your ideal France? What sort of France do you dream of? What does France represent for you? A Libération written by refugees but not about refugees. A Libération written by refugees about France, French politics, French society, world affairs, sport, and culture.”
Grégoire Biseau, Deputy Editor in Chief.
©Louise Plantin
©Louise Plantin

Writing the articles

At the end of the meeting, we had formed teams and more or less chosen the subjects. All that remained was the minor challenge of writing the articles. The invitee journalists could write in the language they felt most comfortable with and their articles would be reviewed and checked — like all articles — by the editorial team. However they would not receive any help writing the articles — there was not enough time and that was not the point: the invitee journalists would be just like any other journalists.

The Fred&Farid team therefore organized working meetings to accompany the journalists as they wrote. A room was open all afternoon, and project participants came and went, for ten minutes or several hours, either chatting or concentrating profusely in front of a computer screen. As we whispered and wandered around these unusual surroundings with high ceilings and original designs, we met one other, made connections, and exchanged phone numbers and Facebook accounts.

As the delivery date approached, the messages we sent each other became more and more unlikely. Hamze meeting Emmanuel Macron,

Rooh talking to Benoît Hamon,

And then, to cap it all, a selfie with the President!

1 day to go!

The day before publishing, everyone was invited to the Libé offices for the press conference to launch the project. Like the first meeting, we all gathered around a circular table in a corner of the building, with windows opening out onto a surprising calm view for the neighbourhood. The room was full of people. In addition to the Libé team, other journalists had been invited: BFM, les Inrocks, C à Vous… There were lots of cameras, and the room was silent. When someone spoke, you could hardly hear their voice, as if everyone was intimidated.

At the end of the press conference, the journalists jostled to interview Carlos, Hamze, Rooh and the others. But the Libé journalists had the final word: the newspaper was going to press at the end of the afternoon and had to be finalized, which was more important than any other interview. I wandered down corridors that I would not see again and found Rooh in deep conversation with Anmar, Carlos laughing with a graphic designer in front of a map of Colombia, and a jubilant Hamze in Joffrin’s office.

But Alice is the best person to tell us about that:

One day later

The next morning, I went on a feverish hunt for a newspaper kiosk as I came out of the metro. I went into a long, narrow stall, crowded with good and not-so-good papers, with a saleswoman who seemed totally impervious to my excitement. I slipped the freshly-printed newspaper under my arm and ran to Kiwanda. When I arrived, Rooh and Hamze were already there, sitting in front of what looked like a crisis room: computers, phones, several copies of Libé and loads of tabs open on social media. We looked at each other, like kids who have just done something amazing, and hugged each other. We were so pleased… One by one, all our colleagues arrived at Kiwanda, a copy of the newspaper in their hands or the firm intention to pinch one of ours for their coffee break.

The newspaper kiosks in the 11th arrondissement were all out of stock. Perhaps it was our fault… How many people had read the newspaper? How many people had felt that little spark of enthusiasm that we hoped to create? That moment of clarity when you feel a change of perspective, even a minor one. We would not receive the final sales figures until a few days later.

During the press conference, we talked about our hopes for this project. That refugees would feel stronger and more liberated when they read the newspaper. That people would be categorized less often according to their legal status in everyday situations and discussions. That other newspapers in France, Europe and around the world would latch on to the same idea and broadcast this small shockwave everywhere. Of course, some things didn’t happen as we had imagined them. We did not meet Marine Le Pen; Inna didn’t interview Melenchon; the special issue of Libé was called “Libé des réfugiés” (Libé by refugees) and not “Libé des personnes réfugiées” (Libé by people living as refugees) or “La France vue par les personnes réfugiées” (France as seen by people living as refugees) or even just “Libé”… We liked the idea that this Libé could be just like all the others, and the bold statement that would have made. But even the fact that this special issue existed, that these voices could be heard, and the whole process which led to its publication are major landmarks along the long road to changing perceptions, dismantling stereotypes and finally enabling people to interact with each another as freely as possible.

Rooh had the last word, which is no surprise. He said: “For many of us, this paper is proof that we can write about current affairs and give our opinions on our experiences here. From a wider point of view, that “us” and “them” do not really exist. All of us are individuals, with our own opinions, but there is only one “us”.”


Signed: Emma Broughton et Merry Royer, us ; Célia Hanssen, wij ; Rooh Savar et Hamze Ghalebi, ما ; Alice Barbe et Louise Plantin, nous.

Translation : Jenny Fowler

To contribute : traitdunion@singa.fr ;https://www.facebook.com/groups/contributeurstraitdunionsinga

To know more : www.traitdunion-singa.strikingly.com ;www.medium.com/trait-dunion ;https://www.facebook.com/TraitUnionSinga/

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