From our special correspondent
In the Lez valley, a clearing is emerging. This November morning, two figures stand out from the house with blue shutters at the entrance to the village of Engomer (Ariège). A convoy is preparing, synonymous with a new life for Elmira and Ervis Huna, Albanian asylum seekers welcomed in September 2018 in this rural town of 300 inhabitants. Posted by the side of the road, the couple watch for the arrival of Jean-Gérard’s sedan. At 75 years old, this retired engineer, a volunteer in the Acarm09 association, moved heaven and earth for this day to come: the granting of an exceptional residence permit that they must go to seek at the Prefecture of Foix.
Four years have passed since the couple fled Albania with their daughter to escape Elmira’s family who refused their union. “We had no choice”, ensures Ervis, 33 years old. The road was long and the turning back was impossible. After a stay in a reception center for asylum seekers (Cada), it was in this house on the edge of the Engomer bridge, acquired by Acarm09 for the benefit of the family, that the exiles found refuge.
When he walks around the owner, Ervis never fails to show a picture posted on the wall in the living room. A family photo like no other. On April 30, following a roadside check, Ervis was placed in a detention center in Perpignan, 200 kilometers away. A good number of local residents then mobilized. On the day of his release, May 9, 300 people, neighbors, parents of classmates of their daughter Sigida, members of the constituency, had come to support him. The cliché immortalized that moment.
Engomer is not just any rural commune. Many neorurals in search of an alternative way of life settled there in the 1980s, like Françoise Marcq who, with her companion, runs a summer camp. Even if the mixture between these new Ariégeois and the natives makes the salt of this territory, the reception of the foreigners is not always easy. Unlike people who are victims of war, the Albanians are sometimes seen as profiteers. “They come for the allocations. ” This remark, Françoise heard it in the aisles of the Sunday market in Engomer. Elmira sold her pittas and cakes there every week. But clichés die hard. “The Albanians are reputed to be thieves and brigands”, Françoise is in despair, reminding us that Ervis has only one goal in mind: to practice his profession as a mason.
Does the reluctance of public opinion explain the refusal of the mayor of Engomer to civically baptize little Ryan, born in Foix in December 2019? “I have nothing against the Albanians”, defends the chosen one, Jean-Claude Le Hir. His decision is, according to him, only motivated by the refusal “To participate in a political recovery of the situation of this couple”. An argument that Marie-Claude Combes, dean of the Acarm09 association does not accept. ” It’s scandalous “, this emblematic figure of Engomer is carried away. The former French teacher was one of the pioneers to welcome Chechen exiles in the early 2000s.
When Jean-Gérard asked her to temporarily welcome the Huna family, her first reaction was nonetheless negative. “For me, it was over. Then I said to myself: “All the same, you are reading the story of Robert Desnos, this man who ended up in the Nazi camps, and you are not even able to welcome a family in need” . “ The provisional lasted several months, and the association had to be persuasive for Marie-Claude to agree to separate from them.
At nightfall, the inhabitants of Engomer gather in the village’s associative grocery store, sometimes extending the evening around a drink at the local Café, just in front of the Huna family’s house. We buy local products there, but we mainly swap stories from neighboring valleys. Elmira goes to the grocery store, where she started working part time last week. Patiently, the volunteer manager of the place, Marie-Pierre, a teacher, explains how to renew the fruit and vegetable stalls as they ripen. The language barrier is still present for the Albanian mother. A matter of time.