Two Afghans who trekked to France have lessons for evacuees

PARIS (AP) - One slept on the streets of Paris, the other in a massive makeshift migrant camp in northern France.
Nassrullah Youssoufi and Abdul Wali were among the more than 1 million refugees and migrants who reached Europe in 2015. The two Afghans do not know each other, but share a fear-driven past: to flee their homeland on foot, by bus, train or ferry and end up in a new country where they had no rights, not even the right to stay.
Years later, the men are living legally in France, one working as an asylum court interpreter in the capital and the other in a restaurant in the north-east of the country. They are rich in hard-won experiences that provide a roadmap for arriving Afghans like the thousands evacuated to the United States, Europe and elsewhere after the Taliban regained control of Kabul last month.
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Youssoufi and Wali's advice: embrace the differences, love your new life and learn the local language.
For the 124,000 people flown from Afghanistan during the US-led evacuation last month, perhaps the most harrowing part of their journey was negotiating checkpoints, gunfire and desperate crowds to reach Kabul airport.
But before the Taliban came to power, much larger numbers of Afghans found their own way and more are expected to flee in the coming months. The people from the Middle East, Africa and South Asia who knocked on Europe's door six years ago traveled clandestinely for months and sometimes years, often paying smugglers to smuggle them across the borders.
Youssoufi, 32, and Wali, 31, seem to draw from the inner resources that have helped them survive.
There was no welcome mat or refugee service for Youssoufi or Wali when they arrived in France in 2015 and 2016 respectively.
Wali spent his first 10 months in a huge makeshift migrant camp in the northern port of Calais. Nicknamed "The Jungle", the camp of thousands was known for its size and filthy, sometimes violent, conditions. The asylum seekers gathered there had hoped for a new life in Great Britain across the Channel.
When the French government decided to close the camp, Wali helped authorities load thousands of other migrants on buses to assigned homes across France. On October 27, 2016, he took the last bus out of "The Jungle" after departing migrants had burned the remaining buildings. His government bus took him to Strasbourg, a half-timbered town on the German border and seat of the European Parliament.
All he had with him were the clothes on his back, his official papers and the yellow vest he wore during the evacuation. He later took the vest with him when he applied for asylum - valuable evidence of his work on behalf of the French government.
Wali remembers crying on the long bus ride into a new unknown. But getting refugee status in Strasbourg changed his life so that he got a job in a small restaurant and had a roof over his head.
"I'm so happy to be here now," he said. “At night you are not afraid” as in the Calais migrant camp. “You have your job. You got your job, you come back home. You pay your rent. You are a normal person. "
Youssoufi began his life in France on the street after a harrowing 1½ year trip from Afghanistan, which was imprisoned in Hungary for three months for illegal entry.
Then: “I was lucky,” he remembers. A French teacher, who asked why he was late for morning class, picked him up when he explained that he was homeless. She became his source of information to navigate the complex asylum process and then the university system.
"I consider her my mother," he said.
There are few services for the tens of thousands of migrants who gather in the streets of cities across Europe. In France, the number of homeless camps has skyrocketed since 2015. After the Taliban came to power in Afghanistan, European governments are stealing for another wave of asylum seekers.
Wali was bitterly aware of his unwanted status while living in the Calais camp in 2016. “It's their country. Right now we all hate, ”he said at the time.
But even though President Emmanuel Macron last month called for a European initiative to “anticipate and protect us from an important migratory flow”, neither Wali nor Youssoufi complain about the discrimination by the French.
"Everyone is nice to me," said Wali. When he goes to a bar to watch a football game and cheer on his favorite French team, Lille, "I order my drink ... I pay them, sometimes I tip" and everything is fine, he said.
"If I had been discriminated against, I would not be where I am now," said Youssoufi.
When Youssoufi is not working as an asylum interpreter or studying law, he himself works at the Afghan Market, a grocery store in the north of Paris, where he helps Afghans in exile find orientation or translate official documents.
In a nearby restaurant, he recently met with representatives of Afghan associations who want to help activist women emigrate to France.
"Since Afghanistan fell into the hands of the Taliban, I have said, 'I have to do something for my compatriots," "said Youssoufi, who acquired French citizenship.
In Afghanistan, his Hazara ethnic group has long been attacked by other Afghans, including the Taliban. He was 5 years old when his father, a general in the Afghan army, was killed.
“I lived that. I'm living it again, ”said Youssoufi.
Meanwhile, Wali tries heartily to get permission to bring his wife to Strasbourg. He has not seen her since their wedding last year in Pakistan, not far from Laghman, their eastern home province in Afghanistan.
With the Taliban now under control of Afghanistan, Wali's need for his wife by his side has become more pressing: the daughter of a former Afghan government official is hiding.
But immigration authorities keep telling Wali to wait, and he says France's crisis center, dedicated to evacuating Afghans, has not responded to his request. He hired a lawyer to try to get the officers to hear his request for help.
Wali feels like he is leaving his wife in the lurch.
"She's scared," he said. "She cries all the time."
Both Wali and Youssoufi agree that learning French is a must for newly arrived Afghans looking for a home here.
“If you find yourself in another country and you don't know the language or the culture, you are of course a bit lost,” said Youssoufi.
Youssoufi also stresses the importance of accepting the values ​​of secular France. He says he is dejected when some Afghans tell him that "the most important thing for us is religion" or when they don't want their wives to learn French in order to keep them home.
"For me the only religion is humanity," said Youssoufi. He tells the Afghans that he is helping with administrative steps: “We are in France. You have to respect the values. ... You are (now) our identity. "
Wali reiterates Youssoufi's belief in the importance of learning to communicate.
“When you speak French, you can help yourself and others,” he said, adding that Afghans without the language ask him to help solve problems.
But his first advice is to stay healthy despite the strains of being an outsider: "Always be nice, always stay positive, never think of the negative," he recommends.
With this positive attitude, Wali imagines the day his wife will finally come to Strasbourg.
“I'll take her with me the next day to learn French,” he said. Nor will he hesitate if she wants to learn to drive - something Afghan women don't usually do at home.
"Women here are free," said Wali.
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