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An Immigrant Tale: From Post-Revolution Tunisia To Fearful Nights In A Paris Park

Buttes-Chaumont, one of Paris' hidden gems, is a leafy urban oasis for residents in the French capital’s eastern arrondissements. For the past several weeks, it has also been home to Karim, a 27-year-old immigrant from Tunisia, and three of his f

Paris' Buttes-Chaumont Park
Paris' Buttes-Chaumont Park
Thomas Monnerais

PARIS - One has to sidestep the picnics and forge deep into the trees of Paris' Buttes-Chaumont park to meet Karim, Kais and their two friends.

Tucked away in a hidden spot, the four young Tunisian men lie on mattresses that rest on the sloping ground. They're happy to have found a base after wandering through the capital. They have been sleeping here in the park for the past 20 days. Surrounded by empty cookie boxes and orange juice bottles, they are killing time, waiting for a dinner that will be given out a few meters away, on Rue Botzaris, in Paris' 19th district.

They look exhausted. They slept little the night before – and the nights before that, when they were aroused by park security guards. When Buttes-Chaumont reopened at 7 a.m., however, they managed to find their two mattresses and their only sleeping bag.

Karim, 27, is the oldest. Of the four he also speaks the best French. His companions can barely speak the language, but know enough words to survive – to "ask for a cigarette or some spare change."

"In Tunisia I used to work in construction," says Karim. "I earned 250 dinars (127 euros) per month, but it wasn't enough. Ten dinars a day is the price of a pack of cigarettes. At the end of the month, there was nothing left. That's why I decided to go to France."

Karim had a plan. His cousin and brother lent him 3,000 euros. He had to pay a smuggler to go to France, the only country he is interested in. He tells his story, with a few words only. The boat sinks, the survivors are rescued by the Italian coast guard. It's clear these are painful memories. He has only one word, used over and over, to describe this ordeal: "hell."

Before leaving Tunisia, Karim knew he would go through hard times. Still, he was optimistic. Now hope has been replaced by resignation. Karim would like to "find a place to stay and a job, but without papers it's impossible."

He prefers to stay here, though he says he'd be willing to go back to Tunisia – provided he is able to pay his debts. "I will go back to my country only when I can reimburse the 3,000 euros." In the meantime he does not want to face his family. "I haven't been in touch with them for three months. They don't know what's happening here," Karim says.

The sympathetic city dwellers like "the Jewish Tunisian man who helps us with the French language" and an activist named Emmanuel, a member of the Without Borders Education Network (WBEN), are the only Parisians with whom Karim talks.

Every morning, at 10 a.m., Emmanuel comes to the park with a coffee thermos and plastic cups. "I've been here since May 5, when the Tunisians were expelled from the building on Simon Bolivar Avenue," he says. "The city of Paris allowed the immigrants to be expelled, saying the building was dangerous and unsanitary." Emmanuel has been supporting the Tunisian refugees since then, participating in demonstrations and serving as a witness for other forced evictions.

On other side of the Buttes-Chaumont's gates, visible from where Karim and his friends are sitting, stands a rundown building that, until June 22, had been occupied by Tunisian immigrants. The building, at 36 Botzaris street, belongs to the Constitutional Democratic Rally, the party of deposed Tunisian President Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali. The building is said to have housed compromising documents linked to the former president's regime.

A new plaque on the wall says it is now an annex of the Tunisian Embassy. "We work for the embassy," say the people who open the door. No one knows what they are really doing. "They say they belong to the Tunisian Embassy, but they don't even come and see us," says Karim with an irritated tone. This is the experience, circa 2011, of a Tunisian man's hard landing in Paris.

Read the original article in French

Photo - Vincent Desjardins

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How Italy's "Conscientious Objector" Doctors — De Facto — Limit Abortion Rights

Italy decriminalized abortion in 1978, but the law allows for doctors to conscientiously object. And so many do that it makes it difficult for many women to access health care when they need it most, with some turning to unsafe abortions.

Photo of a woman surrounded by nuns during an anti-abortion demonstration in Rome, Italy
Annalisa Camilli

COSENZA — At the Annunziata Civil Hospital in this southern Italian city, every single gynecologist is a conscientious objector. So pregnancy termination is possible only twice a week here when the visiting doctor who performs the procedure is present.

“More than six months after the resignation of the only non-objector gynecologist at Annunziata, the service is still lacking and is proceeding in fits and starts," explain the activists of the FEM.IN collective, who met with the hospital's administrative director in December and made them promise to hire two more doctors and guarantee the service in the area.

The hospital is not an isolated case in Italy. According to a Ministry of Health report from 2022, 64.6% of Italian gynecologists were conscientious objectors in 2020, a rate slightly lower than 2019, while 44.6% of anesthesiologists and 36.2% of non-medical staff object to performing pregnancy terminations.

This means that 45 years after the passage of the law that decriminalized abortion in Italy through the third month of pregnancy, the "objection" rate among physicians and health care professionals is so high that it makes the termination of pregnancy effectively impractical in many areas of the country.

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