They are called Bala, Nabaria, Maïmounia, Maebel or even Hanness. Some come from Gambia, others from Eritrea or Mali. In total, there are forty-four registered unaccompanied minors (MNA), forty boys and four girls, mostly aged 12, 13 or 16.
Their common point: a twenty-day voyage on the ship Ocean Viking, which rescued them off the coast of Libya. The end of the nightmare? As of late Friday afternoon, they found a temporary roof, at the Hotel Aux Trois Mûriers located in Toulon. The Department is responsible for this.
At 17:30 the first group (three brothers and a sister) arrived by car from the tourist center on the Giens peninsula, where they were questioned by the police and customs. Everyone carries a garbage bag with their personal belongings and a shopping bag containing “hygiene and well-being” items.
Jean-Louis Masson, the new president of Var, is here to welcome them. Just like a dozen volunteer civil servants, including two doctors who will be in special demand because of headaches. “Mainly due to stress and lack of sleep, says one of them. They need a break.”
The two first arrivals, FFP2 masks on their faces, are completely exhausted. The atmosphere is heavy. The organization is still hesitant.
Big brother Bala, a 16-year-old Malian wearing a Toronto NBA jersey, speaks a few words of the French he learned at school. The dialogue is concise. “Are you hungry? Are you thirsty?”Caroline Serre, director of social actions at Var, asks them.
“Restore a piece of dignity”
In doing so, they are taken to one of thirty available rooms, clean and basic, including TV and bathroom. “Don’t take pictures of them please, they’re coming back from hell”says the social worker.
“They will be able to find a form of tranquility and regain the pieces of intimacy that were taken from them, slides by one of the two psychologists. For now they are looking down, it’s a shame. It is up to us to appreciate them, to help them humanize themselves after the terrible things they have seen and experienced.
In the reception room, which will also serve as a dining room, Jean-Louis Masson talks to his staff. “It’s really moving, there, trusts this ex-policeman. We do not discuss politics or migration issues. Today we are in human, faced with children in trouble, shocked.
Another group of unaccompanied minors appears. Eritreans, this time. Their smiles contrast with the previous scene. We even see them smiling. “It’s good to see that France, the land of freedom, allows it”slips Caroline Depallens, in charge of children at the county council, with tears in her eyes.
Several teams will take turns with these unaccompanied minors around the clock while they wait for their biological screening and chest X-ray to confirm their minor status. As well as a gynecological examination for girls. And a mandatory vaccine for everyone, against tetanus, polio and diphtheria.
Born on January 1st
Three minibuses are transporting another twenty-seven young survivors. In a separate room, the director of the social action compiles the minutes of all attendees in a large notebook. “These are their only official documents, she says. We take care of it.” We note that they were all born on January 1st. “You’re not used to UAMs, are you?”, we are told. On the floors we hear African music, through the speakers of the mobile phone. Life goes on, slowly.
The last two, selected for the interview, will arrive later in the evening. How many more will be there in the next few days? Many here are already worried about it. Minors, they can go out as they see fit.
And run away, when he recovers. “The danger is great, especially for girls”, scares by Caroline Serra. This ends with a hint of hope: “But some will become the best workers in France, with rage in their stomachs.”