The Wilson barbers’ collective is hard at work on a Sunday afternoon cutting hair in a Paris park, a popular meeting point for unaccompanied migrant minors.
“I’m happy, I got a cool cut,” grinned 16-year-old Ibrahim, who told AFP he had arrived in the French capital from Guinea in March.
As with most of his fellow young customers, his first request to stay in France as a minor was turned down, which meant he was left with nowhere to live while waiting for the authorities to deal with his appeal.
“Sometimes you just want to pack it all in,” he murmured, looking back at his time on the street before he got a place in a shelter run by a voluntary group.
But the teasing and the compliments of his friends waiting their turn for a cut put a smile back on his face.
“It’s not just a cut,” said Marion Collet, of the Wilson Migrants Solidarity group.
“In their day-to-day existence everything is imposed on them — where to sleep, what they eat, when food is handed out…
“Here they have the right to choose what sort of haircut they would like — to choose their barber.”
‘A moment of normality’
Since February last year the group has been giving migrants and homeless people free haircuts.
Once a month they set up in Belleville Park in eastern Paris at the same time the Midis du Mie charity passes out food.
Collet said a haircut is a chance for “a moment of normality” in their disrupted lives — “a quarter of an hour when they become normal customers.”
Around 100 young migrants queued up to have their hair cut on folding chairs by six barbers.
Many of the volunteer hairdressers are migrants and asylum seekers themselves, with established Parisian barbers also donating their time.
All the kit is supplied by the collective — electric clippers, scissors, gowns — with some products donated by brands.
“It’s really great here, the youngsters are very laid back,” said Warsame, a 41-year-old Somali asylum seeker who was a hairdresser back home and is about to start a professional course in Paris.
“I wanted to help, as I am myself a refugee, so I know how tough it is,” said Kunga Lakyap, a 30-year-old Tibetan who obtained refugee status and now works as a barber.
One client who tried to jump the queue is waved off the chair with a smile by Collet after other clients complain.
“I want that one,” said Santoui, another 16-year-old from Guinea, gesturing that he wanted Kunga to cut his hair.
“I don’t have the money to pay for a barber, so before my friends would do it,” said the teenager, who has been sleeping in a camp in the middle of Place de la Bastille in central Paris.
“This is much better,” he added with a smile.