Economy

Portrait Of French Unemployment, A View From The Ghetto

With French unemployment at record levels, times are tough for clients and workers of an unemployment agency in one of Marseille's poorest, most crime-ridden areas.

The number of unemployed rose by 5.7% in 2013 in France
The number of unemployed rose by 5.7% in 2013 in France
Jean-Baptiste Chastand

Like many other countries around the world, France has seen its unemployment figures grow steadily since the beginning of the financial crisis. President François Hollande had repeatedly pledged to “invert the curve” by the end of 2013, but the latest figures show that he has failed to do so, as the number of unemployed rose by 5.7% in 2013. Here's how joblessness looks from the inside.

MARSEILLE — The employment agency building is hard to find. Though located in the heart of the northern quarter, right next to one of Marseille’s toughest ghettos, you have to zigzag between countless warehouses to finally reach one of the country’s busiest employment agencies: the “Carré Gabriel,” which also happens to be located in one of the city’s poorest areas.

Open between 8:30 a.m. and 4:15 p.m., the shiny new premises are rarely empty. “The first thing we learned is that unemployed people prefer to come in here than use our website,” explains director Annie Lopez.

Her colleague Jean-Marc Robert adds: “The folks from the northern quarter need to talk. Facing just a machine drives them crazy.”

A security guard is constantly posted near the reception desk to deal with tense situations, which are common. Last year, at least 13 assaults were reported. “A simple problem with parking spaces or with the copy machine can sometimes get out of hand and turn violent,” Lopez says.

Still, most of the trouble happens when there’s a problem with the payment of social benefits, which often have terrible consequences for people with no resources. One single mother who is tired of having to come here at the beginning of every month to claim just 400 euros, bursts out crying: “I’m going berserk.”

Forty agents work here, handling the cases of 7,000 unemployed people, and yet they generally face their difficulties with solidarity and good humor. “It’s true that there’s a lot of verbal violence and familiarities, but it’s not that bad,” says one of the workers, who recalls that the situation was similar when she worked in Toulon, another coastal town located 60 kilometers from Marseille.

Like her, most of the Carré Gabriel agents are young. Colleagues with more experience rarely apply to come here. Some 43% of the people registered at the agency receive the RSA (the minimum unemployment assistance, just under 500 euros), 67% of them have little or no qualifications, and some have difficulties speaking French correctly and using the Internet. Not to mention problems with housing, health and transport, all obstacles to finding and keeping a job.

Fighting despair

The main task of the agents is often to remotivate people, given that there aren’t enough jobs on offer, especially locally. There are many openings for security positions, though, but only candidates with a car and a clean police record can apply, which is a lot to ask in this crime-ridden part of town. So most of the time people here are offered government-sponsored jobs. That is, when they show up.

La Rouvière housing projects in Marseille (Vpe)

Of the six people employee Anthony Fouget was supposed to see this afternoon, only three came. If they don’t justify their absence, they will be struck off the list, even though the director assures us that every case is treated with sensitivity.

Sitting opposite Fouget is 56-year-old Abdehramane, a disabled electrician who has been receiving benefits for several years. He has lost all motivation. “I’ll never find anything again at my age,” he says. “I’ve given up. It’s been a year since I last went on the agency’s website.”

“I cannot listen to that,” Fouget says firmly but kindly. “You have all the required qualifications and experience. Stop trying to making excuses for yourself.” Abdehramane replies angrily, “You talk to me as if I was a child!” But in the end, he leaves with the promise that he will go to the senior club, where other unemployed people of his age gather.

The "hoodie factor"

In a small room on the ground floor, Frédéric Travers focuses on young people from rough neighborhoods. “Youngsters from the North quarter of Marseille are sometimes discriminated against, but I refuse to enter that sort of debate. Employers will always recruit only the people they want anyway,” he explains to those facing him. Instead, he tries to mitigate any potential discrimination by helping each candidate look “the most professional possible.”

During three months of intensive follow-up, Travers says he tries to “get rid of the hoodie aspect,” referencing the popular fashion of urban youth, and convince these youngsters that they won’t find a job without working at it. Almost half of those in his charge wind up with either a permanent or at least a six-month contract. The others get temporary or training contracts.

That day, he meets with four young men who have never been employed. “The goal is for you to be able to tell employers: ‘I’m not from the ghetto, I’m not black, I’m not Arab,’ but instead, ‘I'm a good professional,’” Travers tells them. Their first task is to define what they want to do exactly, then list the reasons why an employer would take them instead of somebody else. Not an easy assignment when your past seems to speak against you. Mohamed gets angry and leaves the room, just a few minutes after starting a questionnaire entitled, “Knowing yourself to show your worth,” which he had difficulty completing.

With the other three, Travers works on how they should introduce themselves, how to write a résumé and fill out applications. But despite his efforts, the reality of the neighborhood sometimes catches up with him. Last year, one of the young men he counseled was shot nine times with a Kalashnikov rifle. He also remembers how he helped a young girl abandon prostitution by helping her find a job. “We all know that there’s a lot of delinquency, but we don’t talk too much about it. That’s not something they’re proud of,” he explains.

At Carré Gabriel, there are occasionally stories of triumph and optimism. There is, for example, Vincent, who graduated from the Mines ParisTech school, and came here to register between two contracts. “SFR a cellphone operator is supposed to offer me a permanent contract for 2,500 euros a month,” Vincent says proudly. “Of course, I was tempted to go into drug trafficking, because these guys earn 500 euros a day. But I chose to study because there were good prospects. A lot of my friends are in this same position.”

As soon as he signs his contract, he will leave behind his parents’ home and the ghetto. “It’s true that people like Vincent are few here,” admits Clotilde, the agent who handled his case, “but that’s what I say to colleagues who feel down: We must keep in mind that most of the people we receive here are those who can’t get by.”

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food / travel

The True Horrors Behind 7 Haunted Locations Around The World

With Halloween arriving, we have dug up the would-be ghosts of documented evil and bloodshed from the past.

Inside Poveglia Island's abandoned asylum

Laure Gautherin and Carl-Johan Karlsson

When Hallows Eve was first introduced as a Celtic festival some 2,000 years ago, bonfires and costumes were seen as a legitimate way to ward off ghosts and evil spirits. Today of course, with science and logic being real ghostbusters, spine-chilling tales of haunted forests, abandoned asylums and deserted graveyards have rather become a way to add some mystery and suspense to our lives.

And yet there are still spooky places around the world that have something more than legend attached to them. From Spain to Uzbekistan and Australia, these locations prove that haunting lore is sometimes rooted in very real, and often terrible events.

Shahr-e Gholghola, City of Screams - Afghanistan

photo of  ruins of Shahr-e Gholghola,

The ruins of Shahr-e Gholghola, the City of Screams, in Afghanistan

Dai He/Xinhua via ZUMA Wire


According to locals, ghosts from this ancient royal citadel located in the Valley of Bamyan, 150 miles northwest of Kabul, have been screaming for 800 years. You can hear them from miles away, at twilight, when they relive their massacre.

In the spring 1221, the fortress built by Buddhist Ghorids in the 6th century became the theater of the final battle between Jalal ad-Din Mingburnu, last ruler of the Khwarezmian Empire, and the Mongol Horde led by Genghis Khan. It is said that Khan's beloved grandson, Mutakhan, had been killed on his mission to sack Bamyan. To avenge him, the Mongol leader went himself and ordered to kill every living creature in the city, children included.

The ruins today bear the name of Shahr-e Gholghola, meaning City of Screams or City of Sorrows. The archeological site, rich in Afghan history, is open to the public and though its remaining walls stay quiet during the day, locals say that the night brings the echoes of fear and agony. Others claim the place comes back to life eight centuries ago, and one can hear the bustle of the city and people calling each other.

Gettysburg, Civil War battlefield - U.S.

photo of rocks and trees in Gettysburg

View of the battlefields from Little Round Top, Gettysburg, PA, USA

Unsplash/@nemo23


Even ghosts non-believers agree there is something eerie about Gettysbury. The city in the state of Pennsylvania is now one of the most popular destinations in the U.S. for spirits and paranormal activities sight-seeing; and many visitors report they witness exactly what they came for: sounds of drums and gunshots, spooky encounters and camera malfunctions in one specific spot… just to name a few!

The Battle of Gettysburg, for which President Abraham Lincoln wrote his best known public address, is considered a turning point in the Civil War that led to the Union's victory. It lasted three days, from July 1st to July 3rd, 1863, but it accounts for the worst casualties of the entire conflict, with 23,000 on the Union side (3,100 men killed) and 28,000 for the Confederates (including 3,900 deaths). Thousands of soldiers were buried on the battlefield in mass graves - without proper rites, legend says - before being relocated to the National Military Park Cemetery for the Unionists.

Since then, legend has it, their restless souls wander, unaware the war has ended. You can find them everywhere, on the battlefield or in the town's preserved Inns and hotels turned into field hospitals back then.

Belchite, Civil War massacre - Spain

photo of sunset of old Belchite

Old Belchite, Spain

Belchite Town Council


Shy lost souls wandering and briefly appearing in front of visitors, unexplainable forces attracting some to specific places of the town, recorded noises of planes, gunshots and bombs, like forever echoes of a drama which left an open wound in Spanish history…

That wound, still unhealed, is the Spanish Civil War; and at its height in 1937, Belchite village, located in the Zaragoza Province in the northeast of Spain, represented a strategic objective of the Republican forces to take over the nearby capital city of Zaragoza.

Instead of being a simple step in their operation, it became the field of an intense battle opposing the loyalist army and that of General Francisco Franco's. Between August 24 and September 6, more than 5,000 people were killed, including half of Belchite's population. The town was left in rubble. As a way to illustrate the Republicans' violence, Franco decided to leave the old town in ruins and build a new Belchite nearby. All the survivors were relocated there, but they had to wait 15 years for it to be complete.

If nothing particular happens in new Belchite, home to around 1,500 residents, the remains of old Belchite offer their share of chilling ghost stories. Some visitors say they felt a presence, someone watching them, sudden change of temperatures and strange sounds. The ruins of the old village have been used as a film set for Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen - with the crew reporting the apparition of two women dressed in period costumes - and Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth. And in October 1986, members of the television program "Cuarta Dimensión" (the 4th dimension) spent a night in Belchite and came back with some spooky recordings of war sounds.

Gur Emir, a conquerer’s mausoleum - Uzbekistan

photo of Gur Emir (Tomb of Timur) i

Gur Emir (Tomb of Timur) in Samarkand, Uzbekistan

Chris Bradley/Design Pics via ZUMA Wire


The news echoed through the streets and bazaars of Samarkand: "The Russian expedition will open the tomb of Tamerlane the Great. It will be our curse!" It was June 1941, and a small team of Soviet researchers began excavations in the Gur-Emir mausoleum in southeastern Uzbekistan.

The aim was to prove that the remains in the tomb did in fact belong to Tamerlane — the infamous 14th-century conqueror and first ruler of the Timurid dynasty who some historians say massacred 1% of the world's population in 1360.

Still, on June 20, despite protests from local residents and Muslim clergy, Tamerlame's tomb was cracked open — marked with the inscription: "When I Rise From the Dead, The World Shall Tremble."

Only two days later, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, with the people of Samarkand linking it to the disturbing of Tamerlane's peace. Amid local protests, the excavation was immediately wrapped up and the remains of the Turkish/Mongol conqueror were sent to Moscow. The turning point in the war came with the victory in the Battle of Stalingrad — only a month after a superstitious Stalin ordered the return of Tamerlane's remains to Samarkand where the former emperor was re-buried with full honors.

Gamla Stan, a royal massacre - Sweden

a photo of The red house of Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden

The red house of Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden

Unsplash/@hkblind


After Danish King Kristian II successfully invaded Sweden and was anointed King in November 1520, the new ruler called Swedish leaders to join for festivities at the royal palace in Stockholm. At dusk, after three days of wine, beer and spectacles, Danish soldiers carrying lanterns and torches entered the great hall and imprisoned the gathered nobles who were considered potential opponents of the Danish king. In the days that followed, 92 people were swiftly sentenced to death, and either hanged or beheaded on Stortorget, the main square in Gamla Stan (Old Town).

Until this day, the Stockholm Bloodbath is considered one of the most brutal events in Scandinavian history, and some people have reported visions of blood flowing across the cobblestoned square in early November. A little over a century later, a red house on the square was rebuilt as a monument for the executed — fitted with 92 white stones for each slain man. Legend has it that should one of the stones be removed, the ghost of the represented will rise from the dead and haunt the streets of Stockholm for all eternity.

Port Arthur, gruesome prison - Australia

a photo of ort Arthur Prison Settlement, Tasmania, Australia

Port Arthur Prison Settlement, Tasmania, Australia

Flickr/Eli Duke


During its 47-year history as a penal settlement, Port Arthur in southern Tasmania earned a reputation as one of the most notorious prisons in the British Empire. The institution — known for a brutal slavery system and punishment of the most hardened criminals sent from the motherland— claimed the lives of more than 1,000 inmates until its closure in 1877.

Since then, documented stories have spanned the paranormal gamut: poltergeist prisoners terrorizing visitors, weeping children roaming the port and tourists running into a weeping 'lady in blue' (apparently the spirit of a woman who died in childbirth). The museum even has an 'incidence form' ready for anyone wanting to report an otherworldly event.

Poveglia Island, plague victims - Italy

a photo of Poveglia Island, Italy

Poveglia Island, Italy

Mirco Toniolo/ROPI via ZUMA Press


Located off the coast of Venice and Lido, Poveglia sadly reunites all the classical elements of a horror movie: plagues, mass burial ground and mental institute (from the 1920's).

During the bubonic plague and other subsequent pandemics, the island served as a quarantine station for the sick and anyone showing any signs of what could be Black Death contamination. Some 160,000 victims are thought to have died there and the seven acres of land became a mass burial ground so full that it is said that human ash makes up more than 50% of Poveglia's soil.

In 1922 a retirement home for the elderly — used as a clandestine mental institution— opened on the island and with it a fair amount of rumors involving torture of patients. The hospital and consequently the whole island was closed in 1968, leaving all the dead trapped off-land.

Poveglia's terrifying past earned it the nickname of 'Island of Ghosts'. Despite being strictly off-limits to visitors, the site has been attracting paranormal activity hunters looking for the apparition of lost and angry souls. The island would be so evil that some locals say that when an evil person dies, he wakes up in Poveglia, another kind of hell.

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