Seeking Refuge and Finding a Home in France

Karam is an intern at L’Oréal. He is also a refugee from Sudan. Born in Darfur, a region filled with conflict, war, and genocide for over 10 years, Karam was forced to leave his family and the place he called home. In 2015, Karam arrived in France. Determined to make a better life for himself, he immersed himself into the French culture; learning the language, building a network, studying, and finally creating an association to help other refugees settle into their new home. Through hard work, perseverance and hope, Karam tells us his story.

Hello Karam, why did you come to France?

As you might know, Sudan has been in a genocide situation for almost 10 years. And so I left and arrived in Europe by boat via the Mediterranean Sea from Alexandria, Egypt. It was a very difficult journey; not only complicated but also life-threatening. I was forced to leave my country because I was persecuted due to my skin colour… my life was in danger because I am coming from a minority ethnic group in Darfur.

When you are a refugee, you don’t leave your home by choice. Home is home. It’s tough, it’s against your will, but you have to if you want to survive. When we get here we start from scratch again, get the papers, it’s a real fight then, learn a new language we never knew, then have new friends, find our place, and find a job. All this is very hard and arduous, it takes a lot of resilience, a lot of courage and indeed support from people.

Indeed here in France, now I feel at home much more than in Sudan by the respect of people and the way they have encouraged me since my arrival.

What helped you integrate into France?

The most difficult part of arriving in a new place is learning the language. I was delighted and proud to learn the language and be able to integrate into French society, which is the necessity to find a stable job.

First of all, it was a challenge to learn this language. I studied alone for 6 months, I did not go out at all from home, my goal was to be able to speak this language and go back to university. I guess for me, I fell in love with this wonderful language, and I still am in love with it. I love the pronunciation and the musical notes when someone speaks in French, and I think I loved the language also because of some of the people that I met along the way. I will never forget those beautiful people who have helped me, I owe a lot to them. I want to say to them ‘thank you very much’.

I always think back to the first sentence I heard… “Je suis désolé”. It means “I’m sorry”, and I kept saying it for days and I thought, what a beautiful short sentence. I think that learning the language in a host country is crucial because it is just the key to success, and integration is done first through language.

You’ve also founded a non-profit here. Why?

I wanted to help other refugees. I know the situation they are in and I know how hard it is to start a new life in a new place, away from everything you once knew. To do something for others, to give them a safe place where they can learn the French language and where I can contribute my own experience in relation to learning and trying to show them the way I did.

The first place I arrived in France was in a Northern City called Calais. When I was there I was very touched by the helpers and the presence of the volunteers, since I adored the association and their values which in essence was “when we receive we should give too”.

Moreover, in 2016, I visited my oldest brother who settled in Norway after fleeing Darfur. I saw the integration of the refugees there and the motivation of the refugees to learn the language and to make trainings, to learn a trade etc. It motivated me a lot to create the same atmosphere in my new home, France.

It is called “La Voix des réfugiés” [The Voice of Refugees] and we give French lessons 4 days per week thanks to our volunteers.

How did you arrive at L’Oréal?

To give some background, before coming here I was a student for 3 years in Sudan where I studied public relations and media. Due to the ongoing conflict, I was forced to stop and start my studies many times. It was then that I decided to leave to pursue my education in India where I studied E-commerce and where I progressed in English.

At the time I applied for the internship at L’Oréal, I was finishing my studies in France. Formally, I applied with the ‘Interngration’ programme at L’Oréal which is a program designed to help integrate refugees into the working society in France. I was at a point where my French language skills had advanced to a level where the integration team advised me to apply for a six-month internship at L’Oréal. After a couple of interviews with HR and the hiring manager, I was selected for the internship. I was really happy and delighted to join this company.

Karam and his team at L’Oréal

What is your role on your team?

I’ve been here for one month now as an intern and will stay for five more months. I work on One Young World, an annual summit for young leaders around the world. L’Oréal is sending a few young employees to get inspiration and act as delegates in their country to build and encourage sustainable and solidarity projects within the company. This year it will be held in London for a week. I’m here to help with the coordination and the organization of this project for the participants of L’Oréal.

What would you make feel proud out of this experience here?

It is a pleasure to work here and especially work on this wonderful program, at L’Oréal and the One Young World team. It resonates with my story because the Interngration programme at L’Oréal was implemented by young leaders who went to One Young World and were inspired to make a difference. Sometimes, projects are a bit visionary, with an impact hard to grasp… but this one is concrete. The fact that I’m here is significant. If it can change the life of one, two, or maybe twenty people. It’s already huge.

So I will be happy and proud if some of the young leaders from L’Oréal going to One Young World this year come with a real desire of changing the world and are engaged and motivated. It’s also an opportunity to meet different people, and it is a great moment to talk about sustainability and issues like poverty education.

And if they can imagine other projects like Interngration in their country and in the company, I would be very happy.

Do you have recommendations for other refugees?

My main piece of advice is to never give up hope. It can be difficult, scary and seem impossible… but if you lose hope, you can lose everything. If you try to make a good life and you work hard to get there, I believe you can do it. I mentioned it before, but I have been very blessed to meet amazing people here along the way, and I probably wouldn’t be here today talking to you if it weren’t for some of those people. So in this case, my second piece of advice would be to build a strong network and community around you. Ultimately, as hard and sad as it can be, you have to make the best of your new life.

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