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Translator: Hélène Vernet
Reviewer: Claudia Viveros Too often, we forget the power
words may have, sometimes even,
the power of just one. There are statutes, and there are sentences, words that condemn,
and words that protect. And when we speak about exile,
words are plenty! There are words that dehumanize,
words that simplify, words that reject,
and words that repel. And yet, behind all these words, there are human situations; something unique, complex,
painful, often difficult… destinies of exile. And these destinies, for ten years,
I have worked for Amnesty International, alongside refugees, for refugees,
I have come across them. Let’s consider Aisa’s destiny. Aisa is a 22-year-old
young woman from Ethiopia. She lives with her loved ones,
her family, in a province. It is a family of political opponents. They oppose the intrusive central
power because they demand the autonomy of the province
in which they live. Police raids, they know them well! The father has disappeared. The brothers are forced to hide. And then, one day, this is
one police raid too many. Aisa sees her mother
killed before her eyes. So, Aisa has no choice,
and she runs away. She is afraid. She goes to some relatives, in a town
not too far away from her native province. At that time, we call Aisa: “displaced”. Aisa attempts to rebuild her life,
somehow or other. But the threats are becoming increasingly
clear: she has been spotted. She really feels trapped. She thinks that the next
on the list could be her. So she decides to leave, that time
a little farther: for Sudan, by crossing, illegally, the border
between Ethiopia and Sudan, to join a community
of fellow compatriots. At that time, we call Aisa: “clandestine”. Aisa tries to resume work
in order to make some money, and, especially, send it back to those,
male and female who she behind, to continue her family’s fight. Unfortunately, things do not
move in that direction. Sudan threatens the Ethiopians
with deportation to their country. And Aisa knows what that means:
torture, arrest, or even worse. So, Aisa hits the road to exile again, and goes even farther
from her native country. She crosses the border of Libya… illegally. At that time, we call Aisa: “illegal”. In Libya, although a young lady, alone,
and foreign in a rather hostile country, Aisa manages, nevertheless, to find
a job: domestic worker in a house. The threats rain down, and the hits too. The spectre of forced prostitution lurks. At that time, we call Aisa: “illegal worker”. The threats are too intense.
She is afraid and alone. So, with some compatriots
and others, she boards a boat to try to cross the Mediterranean, and reach the European lands,
find a place of safety. From our European coasts,
when she is in her boat, Aisa, we call her: “migrant”. But actually, Aisa will be stopped
by the Maltese authorities, and handed to the Libyan authorities,
in the Mediterranean. At that time, we call Aisa: “expelled”. She’ll spend one year in jail,
with hundreds of others – one year! One year in the hands
of the guards, and in overcrowded cells. But, in a manner of speaking, luck smiles
at Aisa as she manages to escape and cross the Mediterranean again. To step backward is no longer
possible for her. She manages to cross that sea
and reach Italy. In Italy, Aisa has no help, no support, no advise, no information. So, she just stays there, doing nothing. And at that time, we call Aisa:
“undocumented”. Then, in an ultimate burst of courage
and hope, Aisa sets off for England, advertised as an El Dorado. But at the end, she’ll stop here,
in Paris, in France, in this town, where she’ll submit an application
for asylum with the prefecture. At that time, we’ll call Aisa:
“asylum seeker”. But, in Europe, asylum seekers
have no choice. They can’t seek asylum
in the place they want. It must be, necessarily, in the country
that has identified them in the first place, and for Aisa,
it will be Malta, because it is Malta that stopped her in the sea
and sent her back in Libya. This system has been implemented
by the so-called “Dublin agreements”. So, at that time, we’ll call Aisa:
“a Dublined”. And this is at that time that I met Aisa,
at Amnesty International, in our permanent legal support services
for receiving refugees. And we have helped her
to obtain a status, her status. Because Aisa, we called her: displaced, clandestine, undocumented,
expelled, asylum seeker, Dublined But in reality, from the very beginning,
Aisa was a “refugee”. It is her sole and unique status. Since 1951, July 28th precisely,
“refugee” is a legal status, and a status that protects. The states have agreed
by signing an international convention to grant protection to those, male
and female, who are deprived of it from the authorities
of their countries of origin, or the country of their nationality. A refugee is someone
who cannot stay in his-her country, because of being under threat there,
or even facing persecution. That is why it’s a person allowed to cross a border illegally. If asked to show identity papers,
a passport, a visa, an entry or an exit authorization,
these people would be trapped in their own country,
in their executioners’ hands. A refugee, is someone who cannot
go back to his-her country, because he-she is afraid
of being persecuted. This is why the states, today, have an absolute prohibition on returning
the refugees in their countries. We become refugee when we cross
the border of our country in order to take refuge on the other side. And we become refugee
until proven otherwise. That is, it’s kind of like
the presumption of innocence. You are a refugee as long
as there is no proof that you have no fears
in your country. To be a refugee means to enjoy
a temporary protection – a legal status – which lasts as long as necessary. Your nationality does not vanish.
You do not have another nationality. It is simply put into brackets. To be a refugee is to have
the right to settle, to settle again, in order to live… to live again. To protect the refugees,
it is not an opinion, nor a favor, nor a generosity, it is an o-bli-ga-tion. “Refugee” is a term
that protects, really. So, there are all
the others words we hear, which are often used by people who believe they know,
but actually do not know, or who have hardly anything to do
with human suffering and solidarity. So, let us never be mistaken again! Thank you. (Applause)

James Carver

2 Replies to “Le pouvoir des mots | Jean-François Dubost | TEDxChampsElyseesSalon”

  1. Tout est dit de façon parfaite sur tout ce qu'endurent les populations devant fuir leur pays et s'expatrier pour se réfugier. Merci !

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