L'Obs, formerly known as Le Nouvel Observateur ("The New Observer") is France's most widely read weekly newsmagazine. Founded in 1964 by Claude Perdriel, it has been part of Le Monde group since 2014, and is based in Paris.
The Strange Case Of "Doctor S" - A Phony Star Shrink In Brussels
Isabelle Renaud

The Strange Case Of "Doctor S" - A Phony Star Shrink In Brussels

Yassine S. presented himself in Brussels as a Harvard-educated psychologist. Business was booming until his "mental manipulations" caught the attention of colleagues.

BRUSSELS — Yassine S. could have sent his application by mail, especialy since it was snowing that day in early 2013. Instead he went to the Wallonia-Brussels Federation in Brussles to drop it off in person. Letter of intent, certified copies of his diplomas, university transcripts and copy of his thesis — everything he needed for equivalency certification to practice as a psychologist in Belgium.

His application was examined on Feb. 28 and accepted less than two weeks later, which wasn't suprising for someone with a Master's degree from Harvard University. With that kind of background, doors are supposed to open easily. Except in this case, the diploma was a fake. Yassine S. never set foot in Harvard.

For a year and a half, he practiced in complete tranquility. Colleagues, acquaintances and even former patients have fond members of the kind young man who seemingly came out of nowhere.

"He was 24, French and just arrived in Brussels," recalls Missri Najoua, an employee of the Al Malak association, which gives private tutoring in the working-class Forest neighborhood. "He offered to open a free therapy space for children. He came every Monday afternoon and the children were happy; they found him kind. We didn't have anything to complain about."

Very active online, Yassine S. used his website to wax eloquent about his straight-from-Harvard therapeutic techniques, promising "a cognitive-behavioral approach" and "mindfulness therapy and psychotherapy based on functional analysis." Phew!

But on Facebook he presented a very different profile, emphasizing his faith and sharing anecdotes from his experience as a Muslim, rather than Ivy League psychologist.

Both versions of Yassine — the jargon-fluent professional, and the teller of religious tales of happiness and brotherhood — seemed to serve him well. In the city's Muslim community, his messages were read, appreciated and shared. As a direct consequence, in Auderghem, a chic and leafy neighborhood in south Brussels, the line of eager patients to the apartment he shared with his partner grew longer and longer.

Growing suspicions

Yassine's case was surprising: so young and already so many diplomas. How unusual! And yet for a while, at least, he was able to slip through the cracks, thanks in large part to his natural charm. He even managed to convince the cardiologist whose office occupied the ground floor to let him use his waiting room.

"When I took this office, he quickly introduced himself to me," the heart doctor recalls. "He told me he worked regularly as a psychologist for Border and Erasme the two main hospitals in Brussels, which was remarkable considering his young age. As I only receive patients in this office two afternoons a week, I agreed to let him use my waiting room for his consultations while I was gone."

The cardiologist, who we will refer to as Dr. H., gladly gave a hand to his kindly young neighbor with the impressive CV. He appreciated how Yassine was always willing, for example, to take out the garbage. But the cardiologist wasn't happy to discover, one evening, an imposing black and gold plaque saying "Dr. S., psychologist from Harvard," above his own plaque, at the entrance of the building. "These two plaques together suggested we were associates, which wasn't the case," he says.

Dr. H was irritated. Others soon started to genuinely distrust the young man. Virginie Leblicq, a clinical psychologist who teaches at the Faculty of Islamic Studies in Brussels and carried out consultations in several health centers, only met Yassine once, but later found out that he'd used her name as a reference to be recruited in a center. "I immediately checked to see if he was registered at the Commission of Psychologists and, in 2013, he was."

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Street scene in Brussels. Photo: loranger

Her suspicions remained, however, and in the following months, Leblicq collected more information about Yassine. "Patients told me about strange things. I wasn't reassured, especially as he also received children," she says. "He carried out so-called "mental manipulation" techniques he learned at Harvard."

Skipping town

For reasons of patient-therapist confidentiality, Leblicq won't go into any more detail. But she continues to be outraged by the case. "Starting in 2013, some colleagues and former patients tried to alert the Commission of Psychologists, but it wasn't until May 2014 that it took hold of the matter," she recalls.

From there, the institutional machinery went into motion — discreetly.

"In June 2014, the Commission of Psychologists questioned us about the validity of Mr. S.' diplomas," says Chantal Kaufmann, the general manager of Research and Higher Education at the Wallonia-Brussels Federation. "We launched the verifications and, on June 18, Harvard University informed us that it had no trace of him in its register. We alerted the Commission of psychologists, withdrew the equivalency decision and filed a legal complaint."

Starting at that point — in August 2014 — Yassine S. was no longer a psychologist in any official sense. By then, however, he no longer needed the official endorsement to practice. His reputation was made, his network established and patients kept flowing in.

Several months later, the Commission, seeing that Yassine S."s removal from the registry had no effect on his activity, decided to sound the alarm. Messages denouncing fraud were sent to the websites, forums and associations he was close to. The effect, this time, was immediate: Yassine S. disappeared.

In the following weeks, there was unexpected confusion. The Commission of Psychologists received several calls from disoriented patients. At the health center where Yassine S. worked, Virginie Leblicq tried to step in and help but was overwhelmed by the mess that Yassine S. had left behind.

"Given the scale of the situation and the impossibility of receiving all the patients immediately, I offered to organize a counselling committee with other colleagues for a month," she says. "We received many emails and phone calls, in which people talked about their feeling of abandonment and betrayal."

The patients were in shock. Where was their psychologist? Why had he left? Who really was this stranger to whom they shared their torments, told all their secrets?

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Photo: Historic.Brussels

In Brussels, no one seems capable of answering this question. The scraps of information turn out to be false leads. The collaboration between Yassine S. and the Bordet and Erasme hospitals? The human resources departments there have never heard of him. The young tenants who now live in his Auderghem apartment have only seen him once, briefly, when he handed over the keys to them. And the mail that is meant for him is piling up at the entrance. There is no answer on his cellphone and his website is down.

Good intentions?

Yassine S. vanished from Brussels never to be heard from again. There's nothing left of him apart from his disoriented patients, a few old messages on Facebook walls and a photograph, the only one of him online. It shows a handsome young man with a kind smile and a dark look, wearing a French Navy uniform.

Why would a so-called Harvard graduate choose to be represented in a military uniform? The picture seems to be the enlargement of a group photo, but certain elements are suspicious: a dark border lines the shirt collar, as if the face of another had been pasted onto the body.

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"The cap and the uniform don't match," says Lieutenant Séchet, of the Information service of the French Navy. "The cap belongs to the Brest Naval Training Centre. But the small stars attached to the reverse of the vest, like the gold-level surfacier insignia that he is wearing on his right side, show a petty officer with at least five or six years of experience. Not to mention the five medals, which could have only been awarded to a highly qualified military man."

A forged photograph? Lieutenant Séchet can't really say. "It happens that, between friends, Navy members swap their uniforms with higher-graded members just for a picture," he notes. Séchet later discovered that the register of the Navy has a record of a certain Yassine S., who, in 2011, spent seven months at the Naval Training Centre before leaving Brest. Yassine S."s "Harvard," it turns out, was the French Finistère department.

A father's explanation

We finally managed to meet his father outside of Paris. "Yassine is young and he was looking for his way in life," says the father, clearly bothered by the affair. "He tried the Navy, then became passionate about psychology… He studied a lot, by himself, to learn everything. But he made the mistake of lying. This Harvard story was absurd and useless!"

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Photo: lolren

As a practicing Muslim, he disapproves of the lie but remains convinced his son meant well. "Once he got into his activity, he became overwhelmed by success and didn't know how to back out of it," the father explains. "He loved his patients and wanted to do good, in his own way."

Despite our requests, Yassine S. refused to meet with us. A judicial inquiry, in the meantime, is still underway. "He's in shock about the scale of the scandal and would like to put it behind him," his father says.

Yassine S. has communicated a bit in recent months via online posts. "Be careful when you make a wish, not because it could become true, but because you'll be forced to no longer want what you got," he wrote at one point. "Fantasy must remain in the imagination." And Harvard, it seems, should stay in Massachusetts.

Not so narcissistic after all?
Aurélien Viers

A French Intellectual's Defense Of The "Subversive" Selfie

French academic André Gunthert asserts that the selfie is not narcissistic folly at all, but rather represents a new kind of revolution that threatens elite control of society.

PARIS — André Gunthert, the Visual History chair at the French School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences, is the first to have turned the digital image into a bonafide object of academic study.

Now, with the emergence of social networks, digital images have multiplied and been democratized, and the leftist researcher offers a radical new inquiry into the phenomenon. "Photography became a niche practice within a wider universe, the one of electronic communication," Gunthert writes in his new book The Shared Image.

A "selfie," or self-portrait taken with a smartphone, is sometimes viewed with contempt from society's top rungs. Intended to be shared, often to get people to laugh and react, this form of expression is nevertheless significant.

In fact, Gunthert says, the selfie phenomenon represents a revolution "unlike anything we've seen for centuries." They are not just iconographic, but also sociological — and even political. Selfie detractors simply don't have a full understanding, he says.

Not new

"We could think that the selfie is the product of an innovative shot using new technology, the smartphone," he says. "But this practice existed long before digital images."

For instance, in the 1991 movie Thelma & Louise the two female characters take a picture of themselves before embarking on their road trip. They don't need anyone to take their picture — especially not a man. The selfie allows them to express their freedom, their independence.

Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis's selfie in Ridley Scott's "Thelma & Louise" — Source: Pathé Entertainment/MGM

This form of expression lived in obscurity before the modern age of the smartphone, without being recognized as a genre in its own right. But it has gained traction now, as even the Oxford Dictionaries' editors named "selfie" the 2013 word of the year.

Hyper contextualization

When Thelma and Louise take a picture of themselves with a Polaroid, they create the memory of a precise moment. "This is not a simple self-portrait," Gunthert says. "This is a contextualization in space and time. Director Ridley Scott has made it a symbol: We can see this picture again at the tragic end of the movie."

The selfie transposes a situation into a visual form. It shows a reinterpretation of reality, he asserts.

The selfie is the answer to the disappearance of context in digital media (such as facial expressions, or the emotion in someone's voice). Snapping a selfie thus becomes a form of hyper contextualization. "We take a picture to transmit our location ("I just arrived at the airport") or to check our appearance (""Look at my new haircut")," Gunthert says.

A form of respect

Tourists who take pictures of themselves in front the Eiffel Tower value something as old as tourism: sharing the experience of a monument or a site, Gunthert says.

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Photo: Gautier Poupeau

"When we see them all reproducing the same movement, it's negatively perceived," he says. "But when a literature professor asks his entire class to read Emile Zola's Germinal, no one is surprised! Germinal is a cultural monument that needs to be shared."

Seeing the Eiffel Tower is the same thing, he argues. "It's experiencing individually a cultural reference. Taking a selfie in front of a historical building is a really good way to show appreciation."

Likewise, when tourists take pictures of themselves in front of the Mona Lisa, it's a sign of interest and respect. "The image is precious for them," he says. "They will keep it, show it to their friends and tell them, "Look, I've seen the Mona Lisa.""

It's about conversation, not the image

Gunthert argues that the image is simply a vehicle for conversation. "Social networks are not conversations about pictures but conversations with pictures," he says. "The connected picture doesn't exist without a recipient. We don't take selfies for ourselves, but for others."

Snapchat, an application that's very popular with teenagers, clearly illustrates this concept. "On Snapchat, we don't take pictures of ourselves to appear at our best," Gunthert says. "We play with our image, we highlight it, we tarnish it and, finally, we let it vanish after a few minutes, 24 hours at the most."

On Instagram, in a rather classic way, we produce images, he says. By contrast, we start a conversation on Snapchat by obfuscating our own image. It's the first application that doesn't respect the image. "In fact, on Snapchat, we schedule the image's destruction," he says. "It's probably the height of subversion, the ultimate desacralization of the image. It's not designed to be beautiful but to make people talk. And laugh."

Selfies aren't narcissistic

Narcissism is related to psychiatry, Gunthert argues. Americans consider it to be a pathological disorder.

If we think of the selfie as something narcissistic, "We totally miss its social and sociological dimension," Gunthert says. "For me, selfies express an evolution of social norm. Make no mistake: The selfie is a class practice."

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Bill Nye, Barack Obama and Neil deGrasse Tyson in Feb. 2014 — Photo: Pete Souza

It represents a social evolution that has nothing to do with psychiatry, he insists. Selfies are made to be shared. "We always send it to someone, never to ourselves. To do that, a mirror is enough."

Selfies have of course become omnipresent in the context of intimate texting conversations, also known as sexting. "We address these images to someone, through private messages, without the outside world noticing it," says Gunthert. "This is not a narcissistic manifestation."

Psychologist Jean M. Twenge, author of Generation Me, described a narcissistic tsunami that's submerging the world, a theory the media happily relayed. "But a study published in 2008 in Psychological Science showed that young people haven't truly changed their behavior these last 30 years," Gunthert says.

Selfies aren't ugly

When professionals take photos, it's normal for them to master them and make them perfect. By contrast, selfies exude an intentional do-it-yourself feel. The presence of flaws are characteristic to the genre.

"Young stars like Rihanna take great authentic selfies on Instagram," Gunthert says. "The pictures are often low quality, poorly lit, badly framed. But these photos tell a story to her fans. They say: Here I am when I get up, what you see is my intimacy. This doesn't stop her from making the front cover of Vogue with a perfect image. Official pictures will live on."

The evolution of image tells the evolution of society, he says. Until recently, only artists had a right to disrupt norms.

"Marcel Duchamp, who distorted everyday objects to make art, was very subversive. But that was Duchamp. In 1910, the general public could do nothing but admire the work presented," Gunthert says.

Today, everyone can distort works, publishing it all online. "What Duchamp did, now every teenager can," he says.

Shaking up the elite

Those most annoyed by this genre of expression are "well-off" people living in a "protected world," Gunthert says.

For instance, when a young woman asked Prince Harry to pose with her for a photo during a trip in Australia, he answered: "No, I hate selfies. Seriously, you need to get out of it. I know you're young, but selfies are bad." He then turned around and urged her to take a "normal" photograph of him.

"I completely understand Prince Harry," the researcher says. "He thinks, "I don't share the limelight. I am the prince, so I have the right to be on the stage. You have the right to watch me.""

The same reaction could be found during the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, when director Thierry Frémaux described selfies as "ugly, vulgar, ridiculous and grotesque" and tried to forbid the stars to take them on the red carpet — in vain. Actress Catherine Deneuve thought the same, saying that selfies "trivialize everything."

"In Cannes, before the selfie dispute, we saw the star surrounded by a swarm of professional photographers," Gunthert says. "A year later, everything had changed: Selfies impose a new proximity with the public."

We now see big stars in the middle of their audiences, Gunthert says. "This is this proximity that Prince Harry avoids. With the selfie, we, the nobodies, have entered the image."

Sima, a one-of-a-kind poker mom
Corinne Bouchouchi

Mother By Day, Poker Player By Night

Sima, a Parisian mother of three, hits the poker tables every night around 10 p.m. and plays for a solid eight hours, just like a day's work. She earns a decent living, if not the respect of her children's teachers.

PARIS — Her black hair is pulled back into a bun, and she's wearing a pair of hoops and light lipstick. It's 10 p.m., and Sima is leaving her Parisian apartment to go to work. She takes a cigarette from its pack, the first of many on this particular night. Relaxed, she walks along almost deserted streets, as though the city is hers.

Her phone rings. It's a friend calling to say she'll pick her up to go to the Cercle Clichy Montmartre, a poker group, or "circle," situated in the 17th arrondissement of Paris. "It's my second home," Sima says.

Her two youngest daughters —7 and 9 years old — are in bed at home with her partner and her 22-year-old daughter. "During school, I leave every evening around 9 or 10 p.m., after I kiss them goodnight," Sima explains. "They know I'm going to play. The youngest one kisses me and tells me, ‘You're going to win, Mom. Don't be scared of all those men." I come home the next day around 6. I can prepare breakfast, drive them to school and go back to sleep until 2 p.m."

Sima has three daughters by two different fathers. A professional poker player for four years, she recently joined Roger Hairabedian's Ladies Team. Hairabedian, known as "Big Roger," is the only Frenchman who holds the double champion title. Sima's gambling winnings currently constitute her only income, which pays her rent, feeds her family and earns her enough to spoil her daughters.

Sima, 40, has a degree in sociology and can intersperse her conversation with long excerpts of Russian, Persian and French literature. In the mid-1990s, when she arrived from Armenia with her first husband, she initially worked as a saleswoman and a waitress. That was before a staph infection confined her to a hospital bed for a few weeks and nearly erased some of her memory, she says.

She also tried to create a nonprofit organization to offer chess lessons to disadvantaged children, but that project stalled when she couldn't find office space. She arrived in Place de Clichy after the separation from her second husband, and she was determined to earn a solid living.

200 euros every night

"My friends who are chess players told me about poker," she says. "I got into the circle to watch, and I started learning by observing others. This one, he was one of my subjects of study," she says, smiling and pointing to a guy walking towards her. "He's been to all the poker circles of Paris. I was very scared of his aggressive style of play at first."

There are now experienced players who fear her, even though she pretends to ignore it. "There are some great masters here, but we all form a community," she says. "And it's not because I know how to play that I won't be a "fish" some day. We all are someone's fish!"

A "fish" is someone who systematically raises his bid and who can be easily ripped off. Poker has its own codes and its Anglicisms, which aren't always easy for novices to translate. For example, "all in" is when a player bets all his chips in the current hand, the term "sizing" means to adjust one's bet.

Sima says she approaches the game like a good mother, never leaving home with more than 200 euros or so, her cigarette pack and her cellphone. "I'm a small player," she says. "I don't spend more than 200 or 300 euros. I know that's everything I can lose. I can't go any further."

At 84 rue de Clichy, a group of mostly male players smoke cigarettes outside under the watchful eyes of a security guard. Sima puts out her cigarette before going in. It's not possible to follow her inside, as journalists aren't welcome.

The Cercle Clichy-Montmartre is the last survivor of Parisian gaming's legal world. Since 1919, casinos haven't been allowed in the capital. "Circles," though, are considered distinct and are legal and are oddly considered to be NGOs.

It's a crowded night in the nice 19th century brasserie converted into a gaming room. Sima waits as usual for a table to become available. During the daytime, behind the glass-front double doors, we can make out the 10 round tables dedicated to "low limits," those who bet between 50 and 100 euros. Higher-dollar players are directed towards a well-hidden VIP room.

With its massive windows and tall engraved mirrors, the place looks like a Belle Époque-era tearoom, nothing like the movie scenes in The Sting or Casino Royale. "There is no subdued light or shady atmosphere, and I don't have a pale and despairing face," Sima says laughing. "This is serious here. Rules are very strict. We can't get mad or even talk loud. If two players insult each other, the croupier reports it immediately."

Ordinary job

About 200 people come here every night of the week, like others go to the office. In this small world that she calls her "Clichy family," Sima has her habits. Between two games, or when she is waiting for a table, she sits at the bar and takes out a small ivory chess game, a gift from the staff. "I know all of them — the croupiers, the managers, the regular gamblers," she says. "Some of them are my friends. I told the boss that if I left the circle one day, I would take one of his mirrors. I spent too much time looking at myself in it."

Her long-standing chess playing — she still remembers the position of her pawns during a championship she lost at 8 years old in Armenia — has helped her to refine her bluffing skills.

"When we play chess, when we compete, we learn this body language," she says. "We can't find that on online gaming sites. They lack analysis of the adversary, his psychological portrait."

Her largest loss to date — 1,000 euros — happened one evening when the other players had only average cards. "I had 60 euros left," she recalls. "The next day I left with these 60 euros and I won 800."

It's a day-to-day lifestyle she tries to consider like a normal job — except with no fixed wage at the end of the month. At the beginning of the school year, her daughter explained to her new teacher that her mom was a poker player. "That's not an occupation," the teacher replied. Upset, the daughter questioned her mother. "I explained to her that her teacher stayed up for eight hours a day to give her lessons," Sima says. "And I was sitting for the same number of hours at a gaming table to make a living. Most of the gamblers I know don't dare to tell their children what they're doing."

But for Sima, bluffing is only for her opponents.

Arpad Bella, the man who first opened the Iron Curtain
Doan Bui

Iron Curtain Border Guard Watches New Walls Rise

As a border guard in 1989, Arpad Bella personally opened a portion of the Iron Curtain between Hungary and Austria to a crowd of East German refugees. Today, while migrants rush to the gates of Europe, he sadly watches history run backward.

SOPRON Sometimes photographs speak for themselves. This one, for instance, in black and white in an old yellowed issue of Stern magazine that retired border guard Arpad Bella has kept safe all these years. There he is, a much younger version of himself, standing in uniform next to a barrier at the border between Hungary and Austria, in Sopron. The wall is open and Bella allows through a crowd of people lining up to cross. They are Eastern Germans, and that was in 1989.

These pictures of crowds crossing through barbwire gates resemble other, more recent photographs — from this year, in fact. From Syria and Iraq come the same scenes of distraught exodus, but 26 years later.

Bella has changed. He's aged and his hair has gone gray, his uniform now boxed away with mothballs. He still lives in Sopron, at the border with Austria, the same border that refugees are desperately trying to reach to make it to the West.

"Every evening, we watch the news with my wife," he says. "These images that are shown over and over again haunt me. It's as if the past has suddenly returned."

Albert Camus wrote, "History repeats itself, like a bleeding mouth that merely vomits forth a wild stammering." History stammers, jolts, cries, those exiled have another face, but it's as if the film were rewinding.

In the home of the man who long ago opened up a first section of the Iron Curtain, there's a entire series of official photos. Bella with Angela Merkel, Bella with Helmut Kohl. And there's a "without borders" diploma for the border guard who helped open one up.

Grenzenlos, or European utopia, seems so far away today. Border. The word is now on everyone's lips, from Paris to Berlin to Budapest in a Europe that is imploding, facing the most serious crisis in its post-war history.

El Dorado

On Aug. 19, 1989, Arpad Bella was on guard at Sopron's border post. The air was very heavy that day, and there was a stormy, almost electric atmosphere. There had been East German refugees around the city all summer. Tens of thousands of them were camping there, at the foot of the wall. So close to their El Dorado. Hungary had been known for being the "merriest house" of the Soviet camp and for the past few years it was here, in this pretty region of lakes and forests, that people found themselves between East and West, where Trabant cars made in East Germany mixed with Mercedes of West Germany.

The Iron Curtain, that wall of electrified barbwire, was still there, of course. But it already had a considerable number of holes: in July, the government had discreetly started dismantling portions of it, all the while saying it was monitoring the borders.

That day, the pacifist "Pan-European Picnic" association had decided to invade the Sobron post and symbolically open its gate for two hours. It was just one small delegation that would make the return trip from Austria with a brass band. In any case, that's what Arpad Bella's superiors told him, elliptically ordering him to "handle the situation." Later that morning, Bella saw them arrive. The "small delegation" was in reality a long line of men, women and children, hundreds of people, all hurtling towards the Austrian border.

"Normally, my job was to defend this border, prevent them from crossing," Bella remembers. "Even if it meant using force, or even opening fire." That day, he was taken by surprise and hadn't really had time to think. But his heart decided not to shoot. As many as 600 East German refugees crossed the border, and photos of the event traveled around the world.

Bella was upbraided the next day, and the border guard management even opened an investigation on him for "helping Germans illegally cross the border and not ensuring order." Bella feared he would be sent to jail, but his decision preceded history. In the following days, the stream or refugees continued, and the Hungarian government kept quiet. In the following months, 100,000 East German refugees crossed the border. The first wall fell, and the one in Berlin would follow in September.

A European fortress

Today, after the passage of 26 years, the same Hungary that once solemnly thanked Chancellor Helmut Kohl, declaring that "the land on which the Brandenburg Gate stands is Hungarian," has become the leader of a European fortress. Government spokeman Zoltan Kovacs retorts: "The historical comparison is ridiculous," he says. "The German refugees were European, Christians like us. Unlike these migrants who come from the Middle East."

Read that: Muslims. "They don't even have identification documents," he adds. "Who can say they aren't terrorists?"

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, backed by his Slovakian or Czech counterparts, tirelessly repeats that the country must say no to refugee quotas that Europe wants to impose, "defend ourselves" against the "invasion," and thus barricade the country from the rest of Europe.

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Refugees in Hungary marching towards the Austrian border — Photo: Joachim Seidler

The countries of the former Eastern Bloc, which used to be locked up behind walls, fear refugees, forgetting that hundreds of thousands of their own citizens were also once refugees who obtained the right to asylum in France or Germany. Slovakia has declared that the EU is no longer safe because of the "flood of migrants." The Czechs are campaigning for the reinstatement of borders in the open-border Schengen Area. And Hungary is building walls.

Apart from what has been broadcast on television, Bella hasn't seen the new wall at the Hungary-Serbia border. "When I was little, my father told me that over there, too, there had been a wall," he says. "The entire zone was mined. After World War II and the clashes between Tito and Stalin, the border became militarized, with bunkers. The army was constantly patrolling." There were mines around Sopron, too, and many people died. They also say that an entire herd of goats once exploded on a minefield, which is now covered in pines. The Iron Curtain was impassable.

"There were many escape attempts by East German citizens. Almost none managed to cross. The entire zone was locked down," Bella says.

The wall had two parts. A lower fence and, above, a row of electrified barbwire. "The lower fence was to prevent animals from getting near, which would have continuously triggered the alarm," he says. "Every time it rang, a patrol showed up." There were watchtowers every 10 kilometers. Some are still there, abandoned, like sinister silhouettes disfiguring the green countryside. The now-empty barracks where the border guards slept are also ghosts of the Iron Curtain era.


Today, the new wall at the Serbian-Hungarian border, which runs across 175 kilometers, was also built in two parts. A first fence of barbwire and a three-meter-high wall. For now, it's not electrified. "Someone will try to climb it," Bella says. "When there's a wall and people who want to cross on the other side, it's inevitable."

We met him on Sept. 4, and the following days proved him right. On Sept. 6, at the Serbian-Hungarian border, thousands of anti-riot policemen turned up to patrol with loud sirens. On Sept. 14, the government declared a state of emergency and the army was called to the rescue, to "secure" the place. On Sept. 15, in front of cameras from all over the world, the border, the last passageway still open around the railway, was "sealed."

"The border will be impassable," Orban said. He also announced he would build a second wall, at the border with Romania, for fear that refugees would try to cross further north. On Sept. 17, Hungary announced it would even erect a wall at the border with Croatia. There were incidents between police forces and refugees blocked behind the barbwire. There were grenades, water cannons and injuries on both sides. Asked whether the police will be allowed to open fire, Orban eluded the question. "They won't have to. The wall will be hermetic."

Bella doesn't believe that. "Of course they'll be led to open fire," he says. "Their job is to defend the territory. They'll have to make a choice. And I wouldn't want to be in their shoes."

Once again, Bella was right. The Hungarian Parliament authorized them to shoot "on the condition that the shots are not deadly."

Bella sometimes has the impression that history sank too quickly for him. "I was born with the wall," he says. "I never imagined I'd see the Iron Curtain fall. And then 1989 came long. It all changed so fast. I didn't think my children would work in Switzerland or Austria, that we'd be able to cross borders as we please. That something like the Schengen Area would exist. We've now entered a new cycle. Maybe we're back to the era of walls."

A Malmo demonstration in favor of Sweden's policy of welcoming refugees
Migrant Lives
Anne-Françoise Hivert

Sweden And Denmark, A Scandinavian Showdown Over Refugees

Tensions rise between northern European neighbors. Sweden is second only to Germany for hosting the most refugees, while Denmark is dubbed Hungary of Scandinavia.

MALMÖ — In the hall of the Malmö station, in southern Sweden, two men sit side by side with relief visible in their eyes. They finally made it. Ali, 20, and his uncle, Mohamad, left the Syrian city of Aleppo a month ago.

"There's no electricity, nothing to eat or to drink anymore," Mohamad says of Aleppo.

Unlike many of their travel companions, they have no family in Sweden. But they were told they would be well received here. "It's a good country to raise a child," Mohamad says. His family stayed in Syria. "Crossing the Mediterranean is too dangerous," he explains. In Hungary, the police arrested him and placed him in a detention center for a week, before he escaped. His nephew continued to travel alone.

When he arrived in Malmö 15 days ago, Ali thought his uncle would never be able to join him. That's because Denmark has reinforced police checks at its entrance since the arrival of several thousand refugees this month. It's the last stop for those who dream of the Swedish El Dorado. Copenhagen also decided to suspend any railway traffic with Germany. As a result, refugees now use the ferry that connects Germany and Sweden directly.

Two very different approaches

At the Malmö station, volunteers continue to receive those who have slipped through the net from Denmark. They set up a stand on a square and serve sandwiches and drinks. Passersby stop to offer help. Some come bearing bags full of warm clothes, shoes and toys.

Others leave money to pay the train fare for those who want to travel on to Stockholm, Oslo or Finland. The SJ rail company announced it wasn't requiring tickets to bear specific names, as a way to facilitate moving around. A small Red Cross van has been on site for the past few days. "We mostly tend do to foot injuries or sunburns," supervisor Lena Yoanes notes. "Some children have fever."

There are immigration services here. "The quicker the asylum requests are registered, the better it is for later," a civil servant explains. Police officers are stationed around but don't intervene. Many of the volunteers are from Denmark. Some even bring people refugees across the bridge that passes over the Øresund strait, the sound that separates Denmark and Sweden. They risk two years in prison if they are caught. Jibran, Omar and Haroon, three friends of Pakistani origin, don't care. "Our government isn't doing anything for these people, so we decided to do something," Omar says.

A few days ago, they were in Rødby, in southern Denmark, for a ferry's arrival from Germany. "But the refugees didn't dare speak to us," Omar says, "because they were afraid of being arrested."

Images of entire families walking under police escort along the highway to Copenhagen left the Danes shocked. The left-wing daily Politiken reacted by characterizing Denmark as the "Scandinavian Hungary," given the eastern European country's refusal to allow refugees inside its borders. To break the stalemate, Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen asked his Swedish counterpart to let those who wanted to get to the other side of the bridge to Sweden pass. Feeling that Denmark should take its share of refugees, the Swedish head of state Stefan Löhven refused.

"A force for Europe"

Things are falling apart between the two Scandinavian neighbors over the asylum issue. Tension only increased in recent days when several major Lebanese dailies published advertising inserts meant to dissuade possible immigrants from choosing Denmark.

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A file photo of Danish police. Photo: Euromagic

The Immigration Ministry says that social welfare allocated to refugees in Denmark has been reduced by half, that obtaining a permanent residence permit or family reunification there is complicated, and that those whose applications are rejected are deported immediately. Lawmaker Marcus Knuth, a member of Venstre, Denmark's left-wing Liberal Party, explains the measures. "Last year, we received as many refugees as the 15 European countries who receive the least combined. Our system is about to collapse."

The message, he says, is mostly meant for smugglers, who "lead entire families on roads that can turn out to be deadly." In Sweden, the social-democrat Minister of Justice Morgan Johansson responds angrily, saying, "It's not really the time to scare those fleeing their war-torn country, but to show solidarity."

If Sweden is opening its borders, it's mainly for humanitarian reasons, he explains. "It's obvious, especially when so many people flee a war as horrible as the one currently taking place in Syria." But, he says, "let's not forget these migrants represent a force for Europe. A third of the Syrians we receive have university diplomas. There are nurses, doctors, engineers, the kind of jobs for which we lack candidates. Some only see the costs in the short-term. It's true that receiving them has a cost. But it's also an investment."

3,000 demands per week in Sweden

He mentions, for instance, Västra Götaland County, in westen Sweden, which realized it would need to recruit 200 doctors in the next few years. "Government officers went by the region's reception centers and discovered there were 31 Syrian doctors," Johansson says. "They immediately set up a program to teach them medical Swedish in one year."

The government, made up of the Green and Social Democratic parties, just allocated the equivalent of 3.2 million euros to the Department of Social Affairs, to accelerate the validation of foreign diplomas. It also granted an extension of 160 million euros to municipalities that will now receive 16,000 euros per hosted refugee.

At the Swedish Migration Office, officiails say the situation is under control, even if new arrival records are being set, with more than 3,000 asylum requests filed per week. To handle this, the administration has opened several offices across the country. It also just negotiated 20,000 accommodation places with private bodies: former schools, abandoned hospitals, deserted hotels. In one year, the agency's budget doubled, from 960 million euros in 2013 to almost 2 billion in 2014.

In Malmö, the Immigration Office is now open on weekends and until 9 p.m. during the week. The port, with 370,000 residents, is the main gateway into the kingdom. About 40% of asylum seekers arriving in Sweden pass through here.

In the large waiting rooms in the working-class neighborhood of Jägerso, about 100 people are waiting their turn. There are many men, families too. After the fingerprint process, asylum seekers are called in for a private interview in the presence of an interpreter. They receive a bank card, which allows them to open an account into which benefits are deposited twice a month. They are provided with free accommodation in one of the country's many reception centers. Then they leave with an appointment for a review of their case.

Last year, 77% of asylum requests were granted, "almost 100% for Syrians and Eritreans," a supervisor says. Most refugees received a permanent residence permit and will be able to be naturalized within four years.

"Studies have shown that those who get a provisional residence permit live in insecurity and fear, not daring to leave the country, while those who are naturalized are more likely to return home, as they have the guarantee that they'll be able to return to Sweden if the situation worsens," says Peo Hansen, a political science professor at the University of Linköping and specialist in European immigration policies.

A moral duty

On the square outside the Malmö station, left-wing lawmaker Rossana Dinamarca, who came here from Chile "just 41 years ago," is delighted. After an asylum seeker murdered a woman and her son in an Ikea store during the summer, and as the far right party's support rose in opinion polls, the rhetoric became tougher. "But politicians have to notice that people are supporting receiving the refugees," she says.

Both the political left and right invoke moral duty. Hansen talks about "a wound in the national consciousness after World War II, mixed with a certain sense of pride." That's because Sweden helped Nazi Germany very actively. "Growing up, we learned it was a huge disgrace," she says. "But Sweden also helped save Danish Jews evacuated in 1943, and it received survivors of concentration camps and Baltic and Finnish refugees after the war."

The influence of the Social Democratic party, in power for 68 years from 1932 to 2006 (with an interruption between 1976 and 1982) also counted a lot, observes Jens Orback, head of Stockholm's Olof Palme International Center. "The notion of solidarity was very important." He mentions the former prime minister, assassinated in 1986, who was a defender of Central American liberation movements and a fierce opponent of the Vietnam War.

"We have a strong welfare state," Orback says. "We've never opposed groups against one another. It's also because Swedish nationalism isn't as strong as elsewhere. We're not scared of seeing our culture disappear little by little."

"This has a lot to do with the image we have of ourselves as a moral superpower," says political specialist Andreas Johansson Heinö. "It's a question of prestige. We could almost describe this as chauvinism." The paradox, he says, "is that for a long time we were a very homogeneous society, with a language, religion, people. The nation has never really been threatened. This is why we have the means to open our borders."

"The constant fear of being invaded"

In Denmark, it's the complete opposite. Danish writer Carsten Jensen, who is very critical of his country's policies, explains that the relationship with Germany is crucial. "For centuries, our neighbor was a large, aggressive military power that kept threatening to swallow us up," he says. "We constantly lived with the fear of being invaded. After World War II, when this threat disappeared, it left a void in the general Danish consciousness. Immigrants filled it, and we still live with the constant fear of being invaded."

But, in Sweden, some towns do protest against the influx of refugees. The government has just announced it would impose quotas to balance the accommodation of refugees across the country. But the justice minister remains optimistic. The far right may be gaining ground after every election, but ""opinion polls also show a rise in tolerance." Last month, thousands gathered in Malmö to welcome the newcomers.

 Herve Pighiera, recycling his way through France
Caroline Brizard

Why This Man Is Walking Across France To Collect Garbage

AIX-EN-PROVENCE — Over the past two days, Hervé Pighiera has picked up 118 cigarette butts, 60 cigarette packs, 69 plastic bottles and 7.75 kilos of non-classifiable garbage, including a little dollhouse armchair made of wicker and plastic.

Pighiera is on a mission to clean roadsides. On July 12, this smiling fellow in a straw hat, with curly hair and a thick beard, left on foot from Aix-en-Provence, almost 800 kilometers from Paris, heading towards the capital. Since then, he has been collecting garbage and logging everything he picks up as a way to denounce the mountains of trash that our society produces. "I don't want to be one of those who knew and did nothing," he says.

So he walks, dragging a big bin behind him, filling it as he goes. With a few stops along the way, he plans to arrive at the Paris-Le Bourget conference venue on Nov. 30 for the COP21 United Nations Conference on Climate Change. He will come armed with firm beliefs and his harvest of damning statistics. "I collect on average 600 pieces of garbage every day, and even more when I get closer to cities," he says.

The roadsides are littered with all sorts of trash and sometimes odd objects that owners must have lost by accident. He's already found "a screwdriver, T-shirts, baby pajamas, a plastic watering can, a National Front membership card, pie-baking dishes, bolts, a pair of size 13 shoes, a phone, a condom — still in its packaging — and road maps," he enumerates.

A lifelong commitment

Pighiera's garbage-picking vocation started in childhood. "I used to go pick up mushrooms with two bags: one for the mushrooms, the other for the trash," he says. And growing up with an anarchist father who found Christian faith late, and a sister who became a geographer, his environmental awareness developed. Did you know, for example, that a single cigarette butt can pollute up to 500 liters of water?

"The walk is an excuse to talk about illegal dumps, nuclear energy, wind turbines and our un-eco-friendly lifestyles," he says. "We now have a duty to repair the damage done to the planet."

A trip to Latin America last year left him shocked at the omnipresence of unauthorized dumps, sometimes in the most beautiful of places, especially in Peru. "When I came back to France in February, I thought we should take advantage of the COP21 conference to raise people's awareness," he says. He worked on the project for two months, and after a four-day trial, he started his long march.

But Pighiera doesn't travel alone. Lola Orsoni, 24, handles the logistics. Slim, dark-haired and clearly determined, she just finished her studies in urban management. The two met three years ago at a couchsurfing event in Aix-en-Provence.

Lola is the other face of this project. She's the one driving the car and the trailer where they keep what's collected. She also picks up the bin bags that Pighiera leaves behind for her. They weigh them, open them and thoroughly inventory the content every other day for their statistics, before throwing it all in proper waste containers.

They aren't traveling to Paris via a straight line. The invitations, people they meet, camping sites where they're offered free night stays or restaurants offering them complimentary meals mean they're always making little detours. They also take advantage of their adventure to encourage people to fight against projects that threaten the environment.

Other breaks are more poetic, like their two-day stay at Guédélon, where a group of people are building a medieval castle using only ancient techniques. It's a joy to watch for Pighiera, whose real job is as a builder.

Publicity for the cause

The adventure has also visibly brought him some notoriety. A truck suddenly stops after passing us. The driver jumps out of his vehicle and says, smiling, "I recognize you. I saw you on TV." That was a few weeks ago, during the Tour de France, publicity that brought him many new supporters. After a quick chat, the truck driver gives him a bottle of coke and a pack of cookies "for the road," he says.

Pighiera and Lola resume their journey. His grabbing stick barely stops moving between the ground and the bin. "The plastic that's been left outside in the sun decomposes itself into little particles that are hard to grab and that stay in the ground," he says. Also high on his list of annoying waste are the energy shot bottles, which cyclists leave on the roadside.

Around him the French countryside with its freshly ploughed fields are spotted with forests here and there. Cows stare at him as he walks past. It's a beautiful day, and others like the truck driver stop to congratulate him and have a chat.

At noon, Pighiera and Lola stop in a small park lot. One by one, they empty the bags they've been filling since yesterday in the trailer. Gloves on, the two hurry to divide the waste into different buckets: cigarette packs, plastic bottles, and everything else that can't be recycled. "We keep record of the amount of garbage, the weight, the main brands, and we publish the information on our website," he explains.

They want to highlight the part that companies play. "The consumer is not the only one to blame," he says. "It's also important to point out the responsibility of the authorities and the manufacturers. The law could, for example, tax non-biodegradable packaging to force companies to use other materials and in smaller quantities."

The figures are indeed alarming. After 50 days and 862 kilometers, the two have collected a mountain of garbage: 272 kilos of non-recyclable waste, 103 kilos of glass, 137.5 kilos of metal, 51.5 kilos of recyclable plastic, 32 kilos of paper and 3,324 cigarette packs.

And they're not done yet.

Palestinian Salafists wave ISIS flags in Gaza City
Céline Lussato

Hamas v. ISIS, An Islamist Civil War Simmers In Gaza

After Syria, Iraq, Libya and elsewhere, ISIS tries to take root in the Palestinian enclave governed by the Islamists of Hamas. Internecine conflicts get ugly fast.

GAZA CITY — The grungy stairwell leaves no doubt: this dilapidated building in the Gaza City district of Sheikh Radwan is indeed where Younes Hanar used to live. Once a fighter for the armed wing of Hamas (the Al-Qassam brigades), he was accused of having joined the forces of ISIS.

On the concrete walls of the building, the graffiti features messages glorifying ISIS (Islamic State) and those condemning the Hamas internal security forces. Also, here and there, one can see the handprints of Hanar's relatives, dipped in his blood.

It was on the fourth floor that the 27-year-old militant was killed on June 2. According to the official version, Hanar resisted arrest, and had explosives strapped to his body that he threatened to set off. But his mother, who lives right below his apartment, and his wife, who was there that morning, tell a different story. The entire neighborhood denounces the killing as a cold-blooded execution.

"They didn't leave him any chance," says Bessima, his mother, showing on her phone the picture of her son's body, thick beard, and decimated face. "They shot through the door and he was hit several times in the chest. Then, they came in and killed him with two bullets in his head." The mother calmly mimes the barrel of a firearm pointed under her own jaw.

The victim's wife, Alaa says that one of her young children might have gone to open the door, and just as easily been shot.

A merciless hunt

Hamas does not trifle with those suspected of associating with ISIS, especially when they come from its own ranks. The Islamist party that has been in power here since 2007 has been hunting down Salafist jihadists without mercy for the past few months across Gaza. And if his family prefers remaining nebulous about Younes Hanar's connections with a movement that claims its affiliations with ISIS, they were in fact real. In the family apartment, where Alaa offers us a tour wrapped in her niqab, the black flag of ISIS is everywhere: painted on one of the walls, on a sticker on one of the bedrooms' door and even a magnet on the fridge.

Declaring their intentions to avenge Hanar's death, the Omar Brigades, a local Salafist group that supports ISIS, began firing rockets into in Israel in early June. On the 30th of the same month, Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, the branch of Islamic State in Sinai, released a video that accuses the "Hamas tyrants" of laxity in application of Sharia law and warns the movement in power: "We're going to eradicate the Jewish state, you and Fatah. You'll be invaded by our multitudes."

On July 19, five cars belonging to armed wings of Hamas and Islamic jihad were destroyed by explosive devices.

But ask Hamas leaders, and there is no real issue with ISIS in Gaza. In his office, on the 13th floor of a seaside building, Ahmad Youssef, a senior member of Hamas political bureau, dismisses the rocket attacks and says the only current point of concern about ISIS recruitment is in prisons. "But we are working on an important "disindoctrination" process with inmates," Youssef says. "I'm confident that they'll be able to get back to their families in peace soon."

Suppressing any uprising of the jihadist movement is a question of political survival for Hamas. When it rose to power in Gaza, the movement, buyoed by its religious discourse, claimed to defend individual rights and justice in the face of the corrupt Palestinian leaders of Fatah. Today, it is the the ISIS jihadists who accuse Hamas of corruption and taking a moderate stance towards Israel.

Claiming a monopoly on the extreme of Muslim piety is a way to discredit the status quo in this territory. Already in 2009, Hamas was forced to crush the group Jund Ansar Allah during a bloody operation against a mosque in Rafah. Twenty-four people died including the insurgents' leader, Abdelatif Moussa, a man who claimed an alliance with al Qaeda and regularly accused Hamas of being too permissive.

As times have changed, so too have the symbols, explains Ziad Medoukh, the director of the French studies department at Al-Aqsa University. "Today, featuring the name of Islamic State (ISIS) ensures international impact," he says. "But there is no real breeding ground in Gaza for ISIS the way there is in Syria and Iraq."

Christian fears

But local Catholic priest Father Mario sees the situation very differently. "We're very scared that (ISIS) could spread in Gaza. And we can't even flee!"

The young priest, who has been in Gaza for three years, says they are 1,200 Christians including 130 Catholics in the region. "Israel doesn't grant us permits to leave the territory. Some take advantage of permissions granted at Christmas to go to Bethlehem and never come back."

Father Mario fears that supporters of Islamic State will attack their small community in order to gain followers, and that Hamas could eventually lose control.

Across Gaza, the authorities have established nighttime checkpoints to guard against ISIS, and Hamas destroyed an informal mosque in Deir al-Balah, in the center of the Palestinian enclave, thought to be a breeding ground for the jihadists. "I knew the place pretty well," asserts the journalist Hasan Jaber. "I attended Friday prayers some time ago, and there was a prayer dedicated to ISIS's success."

Today, all the militants who have not already been thrown in jail are hiding out. "You won't meet any of them, they don't trust anyone," affirms Jaber, one of the first journalists to report the growth of the new jihadists in Gaza.

Ad hoc warriors?

Families of jihadists hold out hope for a quick release of their loved ones, and do not want to attract the wrath of Hamas. "Our son didn't do anything," says the mother of one inmate, Mahmoud.

The woman's small apartment is in Beach Camp, a refugee camp constructed in 1948 to accommodate Palestinians who fled from Jaffa, Lod and Beer-Sheva. Poverty here is endemic, with electricity working only a few hours a day and scarce tap water, delivered by electric pumping systems.

Mahmoud's mother says her son wound up in jail only because he fought with Salafis during the last war against Israel in the summer of 2014. "There are some groups that are founded on their own, buy weapons as they can," she said. "They're just people who want to resist."

Opposite the front door of the woman's apartment, across the street where bare-footed kids play, one can see the ISIS black flag, with the words "Ansar al-Dawla Islamia" ("supporters of the Islamic State"). Mahmoud's friends painted these inscriptions for his wedding. Today, he is in prison and his wife raises their 19-month son Osman alone.

"It's all because of a Hamas political game," declares Mohamad Taaleb, the young man's lawyer. "They want to appear like moderates in the eyes of Westerners with whom they are negotiating. But they shouldn't play with fire."

He says it's about economics ultimately: "if people's situation does not improve, then yes, some of them will turn to ISIS."

A year after the most recent and devastating war and ten years after the withdrawal of the Israeli army from Gaza, the living situation here is catastrophic. The unemployment rate is at 44%, while 39% of the enclave lives below the poverty line; four out of five inhabitants survive only thanks to humanitarian assistance. Above all, 10,000 people are still looking for permanent housing. In Al-Shejaya, in eastern Gaza, the Israeli army razed entire neighborhoods connected to the tunnels dug for militants to sneak into the Jewish state.

It is here, in a tent, in the middle of an empty lot, that the Chamali family lives. "My husband was a member of the Al-Qassam brigades, he was killed here defending our lands," states Sabah. "A year later, we still don't have a home. What is Hamas doing?" she denounces. "What will my children become with no father, no roof, no job prospects?"

Hasan Jaber fears that Hamas will ultimately be unable to stop Islamic State, in part because ISIS may rise from within. "There are many at odds with current negotiations with Israel. There are strong sympathies for the jihadist movement within the party in power itself," the journalist explains. "Is Younes Hanar's very own mother not herself a Hamas militant? They raised a lion cub in their house. But he grew up and he won't hesitate to devour them if he has a chance."

Asylum seekers in a classroom in Peyrelevade
Celine Rastello

Can Refugees And A Small French Village Save Each Other?

Peyrelevade, a village of 800 people in central France, has welcomed 60 refugees since April. Its former retirement home has been renovated, the primary school has avoided a class closure, and there are new jobs for residents. But the future is no less un

PEYRELEVADE — Since April, the former retirement home in this village in central France, with a population of just 800, has been transformed. Now it serves as a center for asylum seekers, have welcomed some 60 Syrians, Sudanese, Guineans, Nigerians, Ukrainians and Chechens.

The village "had to do something" with this three-story building and its 2,000 square meters, explains Pierre Coutaud, the young mayor of Peyrelevade. After considering creating an educational center, the village finally decided instead to volunteer to take in refugees.

It wasn't solely a "humanitarian" decision, the mayor says. It was also a project to encourage "local development," which would be funded by subsidies and see the rent paid by an association that manages the center. Had it been renovated with no new use, local taxes would have increased by 10%, Coutaud says.

The opening of the center also led to the creation of four jobs and one part-time position, all held by local residents. And perhaps most important of all, the arrival of about 15 new children allowed the primary school to keep operating one of its classes, which otherwise would have been closed.

At first, the initiative wasn't to everybody's liking. The mayor, who had put the development at the center of his election campaign, received a few threatening emails and phone calls. Although he organized public meetings to discuss the project, he still sometimes hears "unpleasant remarks." But this pushback is marginal, he says, and most locals seem pleased about what the town is doing.

"These people are in need," says Milou, head of the new center's friends association. "We have to try and help them. Being able to do something for them is rewarding. Everyone should do their share."

Mutual benefits

Philippe Sœur, manager of the local minimarket, says the project has injected new energy into the sleepy village. "They bring us a lot: new life, cultural exchanges, openness," he says. "In a village such as ours, we tend to become quite narrow-minded."

Nicolette Gibbons, a 40-year-old originally from Brittany who has been living in Peyrelevade for seven years, immediately applied to be the center's activity leader. Her son had never seen a black child, which she believed was "shameful."

The arrival of the refugees has made another person happy: Jean-Louis Brette, president of the local soccer club. He used the opportunity to create a second team and is delighted to have several players who are "rather good, motivated and always ready to help." Brette says he loves to hear them call him "Coach" in all their different accents.

Among these new recruits is 33-year-old Viktor, who used to teach Yoruba and English in Nigeria. Having passed through Paris and Limoges, he prefers the small village. "It's easier to meet people and speak French," he says. Until he returns to classes, which are taught by volunteers, he downloads lessons on his phone, and reads the La Montagne and L'Equipe newspapers as often as possible. A neighboring couple helped him repair his bike. Another gave seedlings for the center's vegetable patch, and another helped turn over the soil.

At the La Fontaine café, a young Sudanese wearing a Brazil football jersey explains that he was initially afraid of leaving the so-called "jungle" in Calais, where masses of immigrants are gathered to try to reach the UK. But finally he decided to take up the offer to come to Peyrelevade. "Here, people respect us, talk to us and try to help us," he says.

The terrace of the café is a rallying point for the asylum seekers, even when it's closed. The manager — the mayor's brother — lets the newcomers use his Wi-Fi. And on match days, he turns his television set toward the outside so they can watch.

Mohamed, who used to be a police officer in Guinea, goes there every morning after breakfast to "kill some time" or contact his relatives. He would like to be more active, to have a job. Before Peyrelevade, he was a volunteer for Popular Relief in the town of Guéret, which he misses. "I feel ill doing nothing," he says.

The residents of Peyrelevade do wonder, though, what will happen next. The center's residents won't be able to stay there forever. Already, a first resident's asylum request has been rejected, which means he must leave the center.

On the morning of the first day of school in early September, a father says he's worried because one of his daughter's good friends is Ukrainian. "We don't know when, but she'll have to leave," he says. "It's a shame."

France-Scotland grind it out at the Six Nations
Serge Raffy

How Rugby Became A Boring Game Of Terminator Trench Warfare

The world of rugby is not what it used to be. Artists gave way to men built like tanks, and the 2015 World Cup, kicking off in England, will take the Robocop scrum to a new low.

LONDON — It was last century, 20 or more years ago. A time when the oval ball merrily made the rounds, from hand to hand. Rugby, back then, was a fête. There were still some smaller, even slender players in this sport of close combat. These skinny wizards practiced the art of dodging, wrong-footing their opponents, or avoiding them with the timely application of that technique that includes successive arabesques, which, deep in southwestern France, they called "the art of biscouette."

The featherweight artists went by names like Richard Astre, Jo Maso, Didier Codorniou, Jean Trillo, Jack Cantoni, Gareth Edwards or Andy Irvine. They lit up the Five Nations Championship with sudden stampedes, radiant improvisations, magical passes.

Today, their successors sweat it out in weights rooms, stuff themselves with vitamins, pump iron to meet the modern game standards. Which standards? Physical confrontation, frontal, deliberate impacts, as a means of massive destruction of the opponent. To the point of exhaustion.

It's a sad statement that more and more matches look like a game of trench warfare between modern and ponderous gladiators who have but one obsession: keeping possession no matter what. To win, you have to bury the ball deep in a pile of muscles. Make it disappear. Meaning you need big arms, Terminator biceps, so the leather ball never slips away.

All the specialists agree: Rugby is now played solely with the upper body, the arms and torso. To those who don't have a Robocop-like thorax, stick to marbles. And what do we end up with? More and more stereotyped games, devoid of inspiration, blocked by strategies that paralyze the players.

An image illustrates this painful statement: Apart for the New Zealanders and the Scots, the notion of deep, offensive play no longer exists. The teams are almost always face to face, stacked in, stuck on desperately straight and parallel lines.

The contrast is terrible: depth on one side, flattening out on the other. Produndity of the soul versus imposed platitude and boredom. Will this World Cup, on the shores of the River Thames, escape this bleak destiny? Will a handful of geniuses spared from the disastrous new status quo have the good idea of proving us wrong? We're not asking them to dance on a wire or perform any circus tricks. But we wait impatiently for the new generation to steer clear of the deadening trap of sport-by-bodybuilding. For the game. For the soul of rugby, may they again take their play deeper.

I spy, with my miniature eye
Mathieu Delahousse, Boris Manenti

Spy At Your Own Risk, Why Most Amateur Espionage Is Illegal

Gadgets that make it possible to spy on spouses, children, clients and bosses are more popular than ever. Few realize it is rarely legal to do so.

PARIS — There was a verbal altercation, a dozen stab wounds, blood and shouts. The scene happened in a parking lot in northern France earlier this year. The list of characters reads like old Vaudeville: Marc, a factory employee and jealous husband, claimed to be "coincidentally" driving his car past a car park where his wife and another man were having a tender chat.

Surprise. Confrontation. A tense discussion. And then violence. The man who could suitably be described as the lover was injured seriously and given six months of work disability. Marc, who has since been charged with "intentional assault and battery," "wanted to teach him a lesson," one of his somewhat embarrassed relatives says.

The case, which will soon be judged in court, would be dolefully common if there wasn't an unprecedented factor. In reality, the explosive encounter had nothing to do with chance: Marc, who had already been convicted of domestic violence, had installed a tracking app he allegedly bought for less than 100 euros on his wife's smartphone.

The gadget allowed him to follow her in real time. And like intelligence agencies that secretly use illegal devices, Marc then tried to claim that a simple, unfortunate coincidence had led to the confrontation.

GPS trackers, hidden cameras

Intelligence legislation recently introduced in France creates a giant gray area in terms of what's legal and what's prohibited. The simple answer is that most spying between individuals is illegal, but there are some exceptions, such as when parents want to track their children's media use or watch how child care workers are treating them.

Unlike administrative wiretapping and judicial interceptions, which are statistically counted, it's impossible to know just how much private spying goes on.

For instance, the legal staff at the French National Commission for Data Protection and Civil Liberties (CNIL) now receives "at least one call per week" from men or women complaining that a relative has violated their privacy. "In divorce cases, there is often access to personal files or messages to prove that one party has a lover or hidden incomes," the agency says.

One expert says that new technology has created an overwhelming amount of "sensitive material," whether it's official or black market. For the former, authorization requests by state administrations or large companies to use sensitive material are booming. In 2014, the French agency responsible for answering such requests issued 1,205 decisions, twice as many as five years ago.

For private individuals, these devices are proliferating in specialized shops that are flourishing in France. There are GPS trackers used under vehicles to follow them in real time (starting at 100 euros), microphones that can be hidden in a room or a bag for remote listening (from 50 euros), miniature cameras to hide in lamps or coat racks to record and watch able to watch comings and goings (from 30 euros).

More impressive still are USB keys that make it possible to recover automatically any deleted files and conversations on any instant messaging service, on a computer or a smartphone (from 95 euros), or even crack any password (from 170 euros).

Unsupervised spying material

The paradox is that while this material is sold over the counter, it is mostly illegal. "My customers are mostly looking for ways to watch their children," says Farid Mlin, manager of the shop Espionnage-securite.com, based in Toulouse, conveniently citiing one of the allowed ways these technologies can be used. Violations can lead to a one-year prison sentence and a 45,000-euro fine.

Vinh Nguyen, who runs the e-commerce website Videosurveillance-boutique.fr, doesn't tread so carefully. "I only sell to private individuals, especially to women who want to know more about their husbands."

At the Lyon-based shop Espace-camera.com, manager Nils Girard says his customers are "mainly jealous husbands or wives" but also "bosses who are tired of paying gas for their salespeople every Monday when the tank was full on Friday."

You'd almost think uncontrolled and unlimited surveillance is the new way to get rich. "You have a right to know," the website Flexispy proclaims. The American company based in the Seychelles offers software for 60 euros a month that allows people to spy on smartphones in real time: to intercept a phone's calls, to read all the sent and received messages (texts, Facebook and WhatsApp), to see which websites have been visited, to read emails. Worse still, the spying software can geolocate the target at any time, and even see through the camera and activate the microphone to listen to the surroundings.

Other companies offer the same software for similar prices but cast it in a more targeted way as a "parental control." SpyTic, developed in France, aims to tell you "what your children are doing on their phones." The same goes for the American MSpy, which hopes to "keep children safe and employees efficient."

But to use this software, it is necessary to hack the target phone, to change the system designed by Google or Apple and replace it with a pirated version that looks and functions exactly the same. It's difficult to rely on a phone pass code to prevent a possible spy, because more than half of users use the same password for everything (and 79% of couples share their passwords). In any case, there is software capable of cracking passwords.

Products made in China

A few major manufacturers now share the "spying material" market between them. Israeli company Septier produces products for telecommunications interception and phone geolocation for intelligence agencies. Russian company TSMarket develops all kinds of recording devices (audio and video) for official services and private individuals, and the U.S.-based Paraben Corporation creates keys capable of recovering all kinds of files on computers or phones.

But in the small retail shops, most of the products are made in China because they're less expensive. "It's very easy to find a GPS tracker made in China for 50 euros, with the same functions as ours," says an official for the French company Stancom, which produces trackers that can geolocate vehicles. They are sold between 200 and 400 euros, "only" to private companies.

There is no regulation of these imported gadgets, even less so given that a significant number of these devices are sent through individual mail after online purchases. In Toulouse, the manager of the espionage-sécurité shop is annoyed by this. "My friends who sell e-cigarettes make much more money," he says. "Most of all, it's hard to compete with the prices of websites abroad that don't pay VAT," or value-added taxes.

The online shop 1001Espions.com is probably the top seller for this market. Based in Florida, the website is translated into French and offers a hotline with a French phone number. Its brochure is full of products designed to track, film, listen and conceal.

Covering tracks

"Today, what delinquents and police officers really have in common is this: They all want to be Inspector Gadget," a lawyer working on organized crime cases says. "Geolocation or tracking apps hold no secrets for them anymore. They use hidden microphones or cameras. There are even scramblers for electronic tags appearing!" They too are sold on websites based abroad.

Authorities are well aware of the dangers. "The facility with which some private individuals, including in organized crime, gain access to this type of material is more than ever evidence that we need stronger vigilance," reads a particularly alarming recommendation by the National Commission for the Interception of Telecommunications.

Whether you're a police officer or a delinquent, the origin of illicit information must be concealed. Private individuals who spy also have to cover their tracks. The case of Marc and his cheating wife will no doubt be among the precedents for forthcoming cases.

In Izmir, where life jackets have replaced bikinis and pareos
Marine Vlahovic

Izmir, The Hub Of Turkey's Migrant Smuggling Ring

A vacation destination in western Turkey is now at the center of the human trafficking of Syrian refugees and other migrants trying to make the perilous sea journey to Europe.

IZMIR — A gold watch on his wrist, rings on his fingers and a rosary in his hand, "Haji the wise" meets us in a traditional Turkish restaurant in Izmir. It is a two-hour drive from this renowned vacation destination in western Turkey to the beaches where hundreds of refugees board every evening in an attempt to reach European shores.

These are also the beaches where dead bodies are washed up. "There's been a lot of work today and it'll be the same thing tomorrow," says Haji, one of the smugglers cashing in on the wave of would-be immigrants. "There are so many of them who want to leave."

Last week, some 20,000 migrants got to Europe through the network based in and around Izmir. Convicted several times for various forms of trafficking, the Syrian-Kurdish smuggler is one of the big bosses of the illicit business.

Amin, a former Syrian student, approaches, and Haji smells a potential costumer. "I'm 64 and I've been here for 15 years. I can be trusted," he tells the young man.

The "wise" old man is smiling as he ticks off the wide range of services he can arrange: "A pleasure boat? No, they're wooden boards put together. If you want to travel safely, you can do it on a cargo ship. For 5,000 euros, you can go into the cabin, next to the captain," he says with a wink. "But, if you're afraid of the water, you can cross the border by car for 2,500 euros with false documents. We won't have any problem finding you a fake Romanian, Bulgarian or Greek ID."

No liras

For a few months now, the Basmane neighborhood, around Izmir's main railway station, has become a hub for smugglers — and a destination for migrants yearning to leave. In the shop windows, orange life jackets have replaced bikinis and pareos. A peddler sells off buoys before the astonished gaze of a few tourists. In restaurant windows, placards flourished during the summer: "We exchange money." The clandestine crossing of the Mediterranean has to be paid in dollars or euros, not in Turkish liras.

Often with a black backpack to carry their only belongings, thousands of Syrians and Iraqis walk up and down the streets of this seaside resort. Some of them lie down on cardboard boxes directly on the ground. In the shadow of the train station, a huge globe stands as a bitter reminder that the refugees struggle to get anywhere.

Amin, who was a student at Damascus University, decided it was time to flee his war-torn country. He happened to find his friend, Khatar, by chance amid the stream of prospective emigrants heading westward through Turkey. And the pair now are trying to figure out how to make the next part of the journey into Europe.

Every evening, hundreds of illegal immigrants are driven away from Izmir to beaches along the Turkish coast. At dawn, they board inflatable boats heading towards the Greek islands of Kos, Chios or Samos. Khatar, who once studied at the prestigious Beaux-Arts academy in Paris, has already experienced four false starts, and now has been stuck in the seaside resort for eight days. "Police controls are multiplying," he says. "There are too many of us. We need to be patient."

Amin is still hesitating. He approaches a cafe called Sinbad the Sailor. Smugglers and others hocking goods and services swarm around migrants like vultures. Abou Amar meets with his "customers" on a shady terrace. The former sniper of the Free Syrian Army, opponents of Bachar Al-Assad's regime, was recruited by a fellow fighter to become a smuggler. For less than 1,000 euros a month, he acts as an intermediary — a "samsar."

A squad of Syrians, Kurds and Egyptians work for smugglers, helping them to pull in migrants, get paid and guide them to inflatable boats driven with "Made in China" engines. "Those damned engines always break down," Abou Amar grumbles. "We are constantly calling the Turkish coast guards to warn them that crafts are drifting."

Whatever the condition of the engine, the price is the same: 1,100 euros with no fixed date for the departure. Some also offer to reach Greece by Jet Ski for 1,800 euros, or by ship for 2,300 euros. Regardless, it is a trip that is impossible to do alone — even if it is short — because smugglers watch the coast.

Abou Amar says that this growing business is run by "a dozen Turkish mafiosi," along with one Russian who has other interests. The Syrian man lowers his voice: "Once, when there were passengers already on board, I could hear my "colleagues' ask if the boat was empty or full. I was told they were speaking of drugs."

Since then, the former sniper quit. "It's a really disgusting job," he says. "These people sell everything to go to Europe. Smugglers and corrupt customs officers are building a fortune off their backs."

No guarantees

The hotels in Basmane have also been doing well. Exclamations in Arabic resonate across the cheap lodge where Amin booked the last available room. In the hallways, the guests make phone calls to reassure their relatives, via WhatsApp, Skype or Viber.

A small group of Syrians turned up within these yellowing walls a few days ago. Coming from Hama, they travelled through zones controlled by loyalist forces, the Free Syrian Army and ISIS, before reaching Turkey. "Are you sure we'll get to Greece?" one asks Abou Youssef.

Seated on the entrance hall of the hotel, the young Kurd answers them in broken Arabic: "I can take you to the boat. Then, nothing is guaranteed."

Quietly, the smuggler explains how it works: "You deposit the money in an agency. Once you're on the island, you call me and you give me the transaction number to collect the money. It's easy, isn't it?"

The group of Syrians are wary, and the negotiation stalls over the question of how the passage will be guaranteed. They leave after shaking hands.

"I seldom go see my clients. Usually, they come to my office," says the young man, who himself left Syria two years ago. Amin has a lot of questions. "There is no danger in boarding an inflatable boat. The proof: Next week, my children and I will make the trip," the man insists.

Amin asks again about other ways to make it to Europe. "For that, you need to see my boss." That's how Amin made it to the restaurant table where "Haji, the wise," was waiting.

After some more questions, and thinking about it, the university student finally makes a decision: He will not go to Europe. "At least, not like that. Not treated like cattle."

Odyssey Of An African Refugee, 50 Years And Counting
Migrant Lives
Nathalie Funes

Odyssey Of An African Refugee, 50 Years And Counting

Nicolas Ngwabije fled his native Congo in 1966, a political refugee. He ended up working for decades at a French migrant center, a reference point for generations of refugees. And they keep coming.

MASSY — He greets his guests in his uniform: a navy-blue blazer, a striped tie, a baseball cap he "bought at a local supermarket," and a set of keys attached to a red cord. For nearly three decades, Nicolas Ngwabije was in charge of the reception office of the Massy temporary accommodation center, designed to help refugees in the southern outskirts of Paris.

Every day, he filled in admission files, gave new arrivals tours of the center, distributed mail to the residents, unclogged the sink, listened to personal secrets and so many tales of setting off in the night, leaving parents and homes behind. These accounts of long hauls aboard trucks, boats, on foot, borders crossed illegally, lives turned upside-down, have been making global headlines lately.

For Ngwabije, it's been a life's work — and a part of his own story.

Though he retired last summer, his habits haven't changed much. He has kept his work apartment on the first floor — "two rooms, a kitchen and a small shower." He gets up early, never leaves his place without his uniform, and continues to serve as a living memory of the thousands of refugees who have walked through these doors.

Hot on his heels

Ngwabije too fled his country. Born 69 years ago in Bukavu, near the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)"s Lake Kivu, he was raised in a Catholic family of nine children, and eventually became a geography teacher and an activist in Patrice Lumumba's independence movement.

"He came to speak to the crowd in my village when I was 13," he recalls. "It left an important mark on me."

But Lumumba was assassinated in 1961, and Joseph Mobutu would eventually take power four years later. "The opponents were arrested, tortured, massacred," Ngwabije recalls. So he left to hide in the scrubland in the country's northeast, on the plateau of the Rwenzori Mountains, with its 5,000-meter summit and year-round snow.

The camp was regularly attacked. One day, in 1966, he had to flee and cross the border to neighboring Uganda with Mobutu's troops hot on his heels. He recalls the intense fear amid the deafening sounds of submachine guns. It was only when he reached the other side of the river that he fainted, exhausted and riddled with bullets, his abdomen, liver, face and left hand wounded.

What followed was a wandering life of exile. In Uganda, he was in a coma for a month with the injuries from being shot. After that, he stayed for one year in a Tanzania refugee camp, where "you had to build your own shelter with your own hands, survive with a bit of rice." He spent more than a decade in Burundi, where he managed to obtain political asylum thanks to Congolese opponents who helped him apply.

This could have been the end of his adventure, but new agreements signed among the African Great Lakes countries and an extradition request from the Congolese government forced him to leave once again. This time, with a one-year travel permit, he headed to France.

Starting life in France

"I landed at Roissy (Charles de Gaulle) Airport in the early morning of April 11, 1979," he recalls. "When I held out my papers to the police officer at the checkpoint, he turned to his colleague and said, "Burundi, what's that?" " I thought, "What a start.""

A year later, after earning his right to asylum and having stayed with acquaintances in what seemed like every Paris neighborhood, he knocked on the door of the Massy center for refugees, the oldest one of its kind in France.

This facility is still hidden behind an old, wrought-iron gate, in a 17th century building, surrounded by centenarian trees and a vast park that used to be a hunting ground. Cimade, the agency that specializes in helping foreigners, bought it and turned it into a center for immigrants in 1968. Eighty beds have been set up in a new building at the end of the garden.

Hero of Latinos

Ngwabije spent six years at Massy as a resident before being hired to head the reception office. The injuries he'd suffered in Uganda forced him to undergo five surgeries at the Bichat Hospital in Paris, and his left hand would be forever atrophied. "Don't complain," the surgeon told him after the operation. "You could have lost it."

At the time, he lived in room number 4, on the first floor. It was nine square meters with a bed, a table, a shared shower and tiny kitchen. It was "the great period of the Latinos," as he calls it, when Chilean, Argentinean, Uruguayan and Brazilian refugees fled South American dictatorships. "Real political activists," he says.

Ngwabije had a habit of leaving his door open. With his refugee allowance, he bought a radio that picked up Colombian stations, and a teleprinter box able to spit out news from the wires.

He was a hero to the Latino residents because in the scrubland of the Congo he had met Argentine revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara. Every Oct. 9, on the anniversary of Guevara's death, they asked Ngwabije to recount the encounter, which he does again for us. "They nicknamed him "Captain Tatu," which means "three" in Swahili," Ngwabije says of Guevara. "He came over with 150 men, mostly doctors. He spoke perfect French and could spend hours debating while bombs were falling, his Kalashnikov at his feet, without batting an eyelid."

Successive waves of immigrants

Ngwabije also recalls from that same period a Chilean woman in her thirties who lived at Massy. Tortured and raped in her country, she spent years at the center, between hospitalizations, before returning to her country after the fall of dictator Augusto Pinochet.

He recalls that waves of refugees succeeded one other. In the 1980s, it was the Iranians who wanted to escape the regime of ayatollahs after the fall of the Shah. Ngwabije recalls "Mariam, who spent 10 years of her life in prison, who wouldn't wear the veil and drank alcohol." After the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, the Chinese arrived, "mostly teachers, students, artists, who learned to speak French in just three months." They nicknamed Ngwabije "Mister President."

When he was in the Congolese opposition, Ngwabije made a stop at the Nanjing Military Academy in southern China. He brought back a few black and white photos — "I don't even remember how I managed to hold onto them throughout my exile" — and the images, etched in his memory, of young, dumbfounded Chinese who had never seen a black man in their lives.

In Massy, there were also the Rwandan refugees who'd fled during the 1994 genocide, such as a young Tutsi couple whose entire families had been slaughtered. And there were the Congolese after the overthrow of Mobutu in 1997.

"We even received one of Mobutu's former torturers," he recalls. "I asked him, "How could you torture so many people?" He answered, "I was enrolled in the army. I had no choice." The fact that persecutors and their victims could be mixed together this way in a refugee center was unthinkable," Ngwabije says.

Today, there are mostly Guineans, Afghans, Chechens, Somalians and Iranians. About 40% of the residents are women who had been forcibly married and persecuted. There are also about 20 children. Many stay three, four or five years before managing to find a job, a home. Temporary arrangements can last a long time.

Ngwabije has never returned to Africa. He never saw his now-deceased parents again. Or his brothers and sisters, only half of whom are still alive. He learned that his mother died of cholera in 1994, through a letter one of his brothers gave to a Dutch journalist, who sent it from Amsterdam.

He has French nationality, married in France, had three children, and is currently separated. Will he ever return to his native Congo? He asked himself the same question after Mobutu fled, bringing the regime change he had long hoped for.

"But when I saw that the new power tortured, imprisoned, killed liked the old one, I thought, "No way." Did we struggle for so long only for President Joseph Kabila's team to do the same thing as Mobutu's?"