“All volunteers mean well, they tell us many things and say yes to everything, but very few keep their promises” an Afghan asylum seeker in Porte de la Villette told me one afternoon, after I said I would try to bring more socks in the following days. He calls me “Bambino”, “child” in Italian. A couple of days later, the camp was evacuated and many migrants were dispersed across gymnasiums in Paris. Though my research focuses on camps and they had been dismantled, I wondered “where is he now?” Where can I bring the socks? After going to a few gymnasiums, I entered one in Porte de Clichy and heard “Bambino!” from across the room, followed by “you found me, I thought you would have forgotten about me”. I handed him the socks and we exchanged a few words about his journey to Paris and about the research I was conducting on migrants’ psychological health in camps.
He told me it was an important topic that was often misunderstood by people. Although my visit to the gymnasium to bring him socks may seem like an insignificant moment, small encounters like these allowed me to get to know a few individuals well. That encounter also helped me find a balance between creating meaningful relationships while keeping a distance as an active researcher in the field. I continued to go see him every other day in the gymnasium and we talked about his experience living in the camp. In the last few days of my research he told me “thank you for taking the time to listen to me” and I replied “thank you for sharing your story with me”.
Clémentine André is an MSc student in Global Migration Studies, at the University College of London (UCL). Clémentine has spent seven weeks in Paris, studying the effects of everyday uncertainty on refugee mental health.