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France: with the barbers in solidarity who do the hair of isolated migrants

France: with the barbers in solidarity who do the hair of isolated migrants
Illustration photo: a hairdresser cuts a client's hair on July 10, 2018, during the ...   -  
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In the roar of the clippers and the laughter of the young people whom they do volunteer haircuts, the "Wilson Barber" collective had set up Sunday noon in the garden of the street Pali-Kao in the 20th district of Paris, in France, where many unaccompanied foreign minors transit.

"I'm happy, the cut is cool," smiled Ibrahim, rubbing his freshly degraded neck and split with a perfect line. He explains to AFP that he arrived from Guinea in March, at the age of 16.

Like the majority of the young people with hair here, his first request for recognition as a minority was rejected and he was left without accommodation while waiting for his appeal to be examined by the courts.

"Sometimes you feel like giving up," he murmurs, marked by his time on the street, before being placed in a shelter. But Ibrahim ends up smiling broadly, under the jeers and compliments of his friends who are waiting their turn.

Food distribution

"It's not just a haircut," Marion Collet likes to repeat, the referent for the collective of barbers of Solidarités Migrants Wilson, an association based in Saint-Denis and also active in Paris.

Since February 2021, Wilson Barbers have been styling the hair of migrants and homeless people free of charge. Once a month, they devote one of their sessions to young exiles in the garden of rue Pali-Kao in Belleville on the occasion of the food distribution organized by the Midis du Mie collective.

For these young people, Marion Collet explains, getting a haircut is a "moment of normality" where "for fifteen minutes, they become normal customers". In their daily lives, everything is imposed on them: where they sleep, what they eat during food distributions", explains the volunteer. "Here they have the right to choose their haircut, their hairdresser."

Young exiles

On Sunday, there were six hairdressers working on folding tables and chairs to take care of a few hundred young exiles. A little Parisian salon air was floating in this park in the Belleville neighborhood, where you could almost hear one of the French singer Serge Reggiani's hits: "I am the king of the scissors / Of the beveled goatee / I am the Barber of Belleville..."

All the professional equipment is there: from clippers, scissors, clogs, and capes taken care of by the association, to products donated by brands. Among the sixty or so registered volunteer barbers, many are in an irregular situation or seeking asylum, according to the association. Others are professionals who take on their free time or vacations.

"Here, it's very nice, the young people are very relaxed," says Warsame, 41, who himself has applied for asylum. He already had experience as a hairdresser in his home country, Somalia, and is due to start a hairdressing course in a week.

Impeccable contours

"I wanted to help because I'm a refugee myself, so I know how complicated it is," says Kunga Lakyap, 30, a Tibetan who obtained refugee status and now works as a professional barber. Several of them are bickering with each other to get a clean cut. One pretends not to have seen his number on the waiting list, and Marion makes him get up from the seat, always in a good-natured atmosphere.

"I want him too", asks Santoui, who says he is 16 years old and comes from Guinea. He sleeps in the camp set up by the Utopia95 association on the Place de la Bastille. I don't have any money to pay for a haircut, so before it was my friends who did it for me," he says, before smiling: "But now it's much better.

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