Paris Art Pop-Up Offers Migrants Community And Creativity Amid Time Of Uncertainty

May 29, 2018
Originally published on May 29, 2018 6:23 pm
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Refugees and asylum-seekers from the Middle East and Africa don't know what their futures hold once they arrive in Europe. After they reach countries like France, the struggle begins of trying to get asylum or a residence permit. One outlet that allows for creativity, community and even joy during such uncertainty is a pop-up art space in Paris. Jake Cigainero takes us there.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Hello. Welcome.

JAKE CIGAINERO, BYLINE: When migrants arrive in Paris after long, dangerous journeys by sea and foot, the first stop for those seeking asylum is La Bulle, a registration center on the northern edge of the city. Just next door is a tent run by a charity called Good Chance. It's alive with art, music and theater all created by migrants. Each week, Parisians crowd in for an afternoon of singing, dancing, laughs and emotional performances.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Foreign language spoken).

CIGAINERO: Volunteers run creative workshops to help the migrants put together the week's show.

MOHAMMED MOSTAFA: (Speaking Arabic).

CIGAINERO: Mohammed Mostafa, a 22-year-old refugee from Sudan, talks of his country's suffering in a poem he wrote in Arabic.

MOSTAFA: They understand me. People speak English. I speak a little bit English. I'm not speaking French.

CIGAINERO: His English isn't very good, but he told me he comes to Good Chance because the people are happy and welcoming there. Abdul Saboor, who teaches dance from his native Afghanistan, said Good Chance saved his life.

ABDUL SABOOR: One day really I was really, really, really, really stressed, and I want to kill myself, like, jump to the train. And then I decide to come here.

CIGAINERO: Many of the migrants are escaping repression, and Saboor says the Good Chance program has given them the opportunity to blossom.

SABOOR: In Afghanistan, I was not dancing, and sometimes I'm dancing. There's many people who's - who can't talk in front of the people, and now they're dancing and they're talking. They say stories.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: (Singing in foreign language).

CIGAINERO: The Good Chance charity started in the Calais migrant camp known as The Jungle back at the height of the refugee crisis in 2015. It was started by two Englishmen, Joe Murphy and Joe Robertson - the Joes as they're known - who went to see the camp with their own eyes.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: And, yeah, I met lots and lots of people all with a need to talk about what they were going through. And for us, that's what theater is. So we decided that a really concrete way of helping there could be to build a theater where people could tell their own stories together.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: Life's but a poor player.

CIGAINERO: A play based on the Joes' experiences in The Jungle will open in London's West End this summer. After the Calais camp was dismantled in 2016, Good Chance saw the need for building links between newly arrived migrants and locals, so they moved their program to Paris. Clemence Moriscot is a Parisian student who has attended the show several weeks in a row.

CLEMENCE MORISCOT: I really enjoyed the different stories and different languages that had a chance to be heard, even though maybe not understood. But somehow, something still came through to everyone, which was really beautiful.

CIGAINERO: Twenty-eight-year-old Marie Noor quit her job to volunteer full time with Good Chance.

MARIE NOOR: I just want to make something. It makes sense. And so I took a big decision. I quit my job. It's not about refugees. It's not about migrants. It's really about friends.

CIGAINERO: Noor says she and her boyfriend have gone one step further and have also taken a teenage asylum-seeker into their home. For NPR News, I'm Jake Cigainero in Paris.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #6: (Singing in foreign language).

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing in foreign language).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #6: (Singing in foreign language).

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing in foreign language).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #6: (Singing in foreign language).

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing in foreign language).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #6: (Chanting in foreign language).

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Chanting in foreign language). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.