New to France, migrants cheer on World Cup victory
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The festive spirit after France won its second World Cup final in 20 years imbued every corner of the city, including a Salvation Army shelter in northeastern Paris, where several dozen migrants gathered to watch the match.
The residents are setting up chairs, making tea and coffee. A group of Afghan refugees have made a pot of cardamom tea and set out plates of fruit and nuts.
It’s 4pm and the match hasn’t started yet. But Ali, 22, is already decked out in a French flag and matching wristband. The young Afghan refugee crossed Paris from his host family in the centre of town to watch the match here in the Salvation Army residence hall’s cafeteria. He is meeting friends who live in the centre, fellow Afghans he met two years ago while living on the streets – “below the bridges” – at a train station in central Paris and in the infamous encampment at Porte de la Chapelle. He doesn’t know the team chants, but he made up his own melody: “Allez les Bleus! Go, Kanté! Go, Griezmann!” For him, there’s no question of which team he supports. “I love France and the French. France has been generous to me. People have been kind.”
Since getting his residence permit a few months ago, he has begun French lessons in the hopes of working in the hotel industry.
“In France, you can do it,” adds Youssef, a 25-year-old from Darfur, Sudan. “You can dream in France. If you’re the best, you can be on the team. That’s not true everywhere.” He is referring to the 17 French players who are sons of immigrants. “Mbappé’s dad is from Cameroon and his mother is Algerian." In the shelter, it’s a detail that counts.
The residents have gathered in the lobby for many of the World Cup matches, but the crowds have been larger for some. Brazil, Argentina and the African teams drew the most fans.
“Since their elimination, the French team is representing Africa,” jokes Youssef.
Many of the residents chose to watch the final on the Champs-Élysées and other public spaces in Paris. But by the start of the match, roughly 50 of the hall’s 400 residents had gathered in the lobby for cake, tea and coffee.
“Lots of people stay here because they don’t have transportation cards or they are worried because they don’t have all their papers,” said Youssef.
Youssef came to France by way of Libya and Italy. Exhausted from sixth months in a Libyan prison, he chose to rest for a few months in Italy before moving on to his chosen destination, France. But while there he was finger-printed, so he is at particularly high risk of being sent back to Italy under the Dublin Convention, which stipulates that migrants should be returned to the country where they first entered the European Union.
'Today we’ll win even if we bleed!'
Fellow Sudanese and Eritrean migrants have camped out in the front row in front of the television. “Pavard is looking slow!”, “What’s Giroud doing? He hasn’t scored!”, “We have to win!” screams Osman, a 26-year-old from Eritrea. “Today we’ll win even if we bleed!”
Every attempt, even the sloppy long shots of the first few minutes, elicits cheers. Everyone is on their feet for the first goal.
After a Croatian attempt, Osman jumps up, his head in his hands in that most iconic of football gestures. Moussa refuses to translate his friends' exclamations. “He’s insulting the Croatians. He takes things too seriously.”
Another refugee, Habib, drinks cardamom tea from a glass emblazoned with the Afghan flag. He and his friends have gathered around a platter of nuts and dried fruit from Afghanistan. They too are rooting for France.
Two of Croatia’s players, Dejan Lovren and Luka Modric, are refugees of the Bosnian and Yugoslavian wars, respectively. But the common experience hasn’t swayed Habib. “We are all refugees from somewhere, but we live here. We’re for the place where we live.”
The noise level in the cafeteria mounts as the game progresses. When Antoine Griezmann scores a penalty bringing France 2-1 up, the first row of spectators turns over their table in excitement. But the lead doesn’t seem to reassure anyone. Samuel Umtiti goes out after a collision and the room grumbles in sympathy. Every face is fixed on the screens.
At half time, Osman runs upstairs to put on his Barcelona shirt.
In the second half after Pogba and Mbappé score in quick succession, the room goes wild – up and dancing, hugging, turning over their seats.
A group of women on one side of the room start up a chant of, “Thank you, Pogba! Thank you, Mbappé!”
Bakayoko, 29, yells so loudly she needs to dash upstairs for her inhaler. The second of three wives to an abusive husband, she fled the Ivory Coast for France less than a year ago.
“No one has a flag? I need a flag for France,” she shouts.
'Mbappé and Umtiti are my children'
Fellow Ivorian Nikima stays loyal to French captain and goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, even after his dithering makes for an embarrassing second goal from Croatia. “Lloris is my heart, I love goalies.”
It may be because by then, the room had decided France had won.
“Four goals in the final! That’s crazy,” says Florence, Nikima and Bakayoko’s friend from Cameroon. “Mbappé and Umtiti are my children,” she says, reminding everyone that the two players are of Cameroonian descent.
“I’m glad Cameroon has produced something beautiful. We are contributing to French progress. I owe a lot to France. She saved me, she cured me, and here, I am free.”
She’s eager to call her husband who lives with their toddler son in Cameroon. “Everyone is celebrating over there,” she says. “If they win, I’m going to the Champs-Élysées!”
Another neighbour butts in. “Do you think they’ll give everyone residence papers if they win?” But Florence can’t be brought down. She has just gotten her residency card. Now she has only one dream: to bring her son to France.
“When I was a kid, I wasn’t a bad player. So why not? Maybe my son can be the next Mbappé.”
With France 4-2 up with 15 minutes left, the ladies – dancing and singing – decided to call it a win and go get changed before heading out to celebrate.
By the final whistle, they are gathered in the lobby, dressed in red, white and blue, sporting flags and face paint, and ready to join the throngs of Parisians pouring out into the streets.