In honour of World Press Freedom Day, the Maison des Journalistes (MDJ), a French non-profit organization that offers shelter and support to journalists forced to flee their home countries, opened its doors to FRANCE 24.
Based in Paris’s 15th arrondissement, the MDJ was founded in 2002, and has since housed more than 250 journalists from 54 different countries.
Johnny (who declined to give his last name), a journalist from the Central African Republic (CAR), left his home in the capital Bangui after his brother was killed. For the past four months, he has been living in a tiny room at the non-profit overlooking a nearby cemetery.
“The first few nights were rough, but I got used to it,” he said of his new lodgings.
Despite the view, the MDJ has given Johnny a safe refuge from the violence in CAR. The country has been wracked by inter-religious fighting between Seleka – a coalition of mostly Muslim rebels from the north who briefly seized power in March 2013 – and Christian militia known as “anti-balaka”, which means “anti-machete” in the local Sango language.
Johnny fled the country after he was targeted by Seleka, afraid that staying in Bangui amounted to suicide.
“They confiscated my bag and computer,” he said. “They wanted to take them. Finally, they gave me my computer back and when I went to put it into my bag, a grenade rolled out. They put a grenade in my backpack.”
But life in exile is filled with its own challenges, a fact all too familiar to MDJ staff.
“When they first get here, we give them housing and we help them get political asylum,” Darline Cothière, MDJ’s director, explained. “Then we help them get the right paperwork, so they can get medical coverage and unemployment. It’s administrative help, but it’s stuff that needs to be done.”
Because so many of those who cross MDJ's threshold have lived through trauma, the non-profit also provides psychological counseling.
Despite the presence of both French and African Union forces in CAR, the conflict has worn on, raising fears it could spiral into ethnic cleansing or genocide. But Johnny still hopes that one day he will be able to return home and work without fear of persecution. Until then, the MDJ has provided him the means to start rebuilding his life.
Date created : 2014-05-03