Cut above: Barbers give Paris migrants a boost

Peals of youthful laughter rise above a whirring of clippers and the snipping of scissors -- but this isn't your normal barber's shop.

Cut above: Barbers give Paris migrants a boost
Asylum seekers warm themselves up around a fire with volunteers of the 'Solidarite migrants Wilson' association outside Paris in 2019. Now, the organisation has become something of a barber shop. (Photo by Christophe ARCHAMBAULT / AFP)

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.

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Macron caps US state visit with New Orleans trip

President Emmanuel Macron on Friday headed to the southern American city of New Orleans, which retains much of its French-infused heritage, as he wraps up a rare three-day state visit to the United States.

Macron caps US state visit with New Orleans trip

After vowing continued support for Ukraine and seeking to quell a EU-US trade dispute during White House talks with President Joe Biden, Macron was expected to meet with local officials and energy companies in New Orleans and unveil a French language program.

Once a French colonial city, New Orleans was sold to the United States by Napoleon as part of the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, and Macron has called it “the quintessential francophone land.”

Macron will promote an initiative to broaden access to French language education for American students, with a focus on disadvantaged groups “for whom the French language can be a multiplier of opportunities,” the French leader said.

Addressing members of the French community in Washington on Wednesday, Macron added that he wanted to revamp the image of the French tongue in the United States, “which is sometimes seen as elitist.”

Macron will follow in the footsteps of French President Charles de Gaulle, who visited New Orleans in 1960. As he strolls through the streets of “NOLA,” Macron is likely to stop by the “Vieux Carre,” or “French Quarter”, the bustling historic city center.

“We have a history in New Orleans and important things to say there concerning both our history and what we want to do for the future,” the Elysee Palace said in a statement.

Energy and climate

Besides celebrating French-American ties, Macron will pay tribute to the victims of Hurricane Katrina which killed more than 1,800 people in and around New Orleans and caused billions of dollars in damage in 2005.

Macron will also meet with businesses “devoted to energy and climate issues,” according to his office, while French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna and Louisiana Governor John Edwards will sign an energy deal.

Accompanied by French film director Claude Lelouch and dancer and choreographer Benjamin Millepied, Macron will meet local artists and prominent cultural figures of New Orleans, known as the birthplace of jazz.

The visit will come on the heels of a lavish dinner at the White House, headlined by master jazzman Jon Batiste, who comes from a family of New Orleans musicians.

Macron’s state visit — the first such formal occasion since Biden took office in January 2021 — symbolized how Washington and Paris have buried last year’s bitter spat over the way Australia pulled out of a French submarine deal in favor of acquiring US nuclear subs instead.

The visit featured a full military honor guard for Macron, including service members from the marines, army, air force and even a detachment of soldiers in 18th-century Revolutionary War garb.