By Manuela Frésil — documentary maker.
Two and a half years
I know very little about Olta’s family history. I don’t know why they came to France. I only know that they lived in Belgium before coming to Annecy.
Of all the families that lived “outside” in France, this one’s story has been the most cruel. Edison, the eldest child, is autistic. Because of this, he attended a special school. He’s a kind boy who is fairly communicative and happy. Olta is a little girl like all other little girls, but in these last few months, I’ve seen how worried and insecure she is about how far behind she is at school. Aldin is just like Aladdin — clever, helpful and acrobatic. Namilla is 5 years old. She’s caring and talks easily.
It’s Namilla who told me about their return on the plane. I asked her if she’d seen the clouds; she said yes, but that she had been sick. She then added “you know, we don’t have a house here”. She said it simply, without emphasis, without any particular sadness. As if she was saying “it’s my birthday tomorrow” or “we’re going to the lake tomorrow”.
September: Olta doing her homework in the square in front of the station.
I first met some of the children last summer in the square in front of the station. Olta and Burim (a child that lives with the Romanians — 6 years living on the streets) had a project to make a Frozen choreography that I filmed and subsequently put in the film. On this occasion, I spoke with the parents and learned a bit more about their lives. They did not really sleep outside but in a sort of cellar, with no water or electricity, to which, a man – an Arab – pitying them, had given them a key, on the condition that they only stay there during the night.
Previously, they had spent two and a half months on the station carpark, then moved to the infamous “116” squat — an old ruined building in a filthy state. There were no toilets and no water. I won’t go into details here even though the children talked about it a lot. 116 was evacuated by the police, meaning the children have now lived through the trauma of being arrested. Between the carpark, the ruined house and the cellar, they “survived” like this for two and a half years, before some respite at l’école de Fins.
New Years Eve: the family had been at the Ecole des Fins temporary shelter for a month and a half. I wished them a Happy New Year and they wished me one too.
Feta, their mother, took care of her little family: the kids were always properly dressed and as clean as they could be. She insisted that homework was done, even if she was not able to help them. All four children are polite, helpful, and know how to say “thank you”.
As we are Facebook friends, they called me Saturday from Kosovo. Feta, after having reassured me, asked me for my help. First, she asked me to call their lawyer, and then, if it was at all possible, she asked me to send them a bit of money. I know from “the gang” that they are a very poor family. It is very unlikely that their limited relatives have enough money to help them. They are living with cousins at the moment, but according to Olta, only for a few days.
In normal times and in another department of France, this family might have already been given papers on a humanitarian basis, taking into account the things they have lived through and due to Edison’s handicap. The council wanted to make an example of them. I don’t believe that we need to help all the people that are sent back to Albania, Kosovo or Bosnia but the Rexhepi family’s situation is particular. They never benefited from any sort of lodging like Cada or G. Bonnet. After having lived more than two and a half years on the streets of Annecy, if we don’t help them – even just a little – they will be back on the streets in Pristina.
This family does not deserve this and I’m scared for Olta who will soon become a young woman.
Thanks to Manuela for sharing Olta and her family’s story with us.
This family landed in Pristina with nothing. Feta has asked for €600 to avoid sleeping in the streets. If you would like to help, please don’t hesitate to donate via Lake Aid.
Lake Aid pot commun donation site: www.lepotcommun.fr/pot/3wc8c4qu