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‘Illegal’ encounter

Three-and-a-half years ago, Rubel Ahmed from Bangladesh went to the UK on a tourist visa. Once there, he started working in a restaurant and stayed back. He sent money home on a regular basis and all was good for two years and two months until the cops caught up with him. Desperate to escape being deported, he got on a truck at night and landed in France. When this journalist met him on a train to Paris in May, the 29-year-old had been staying in France for 16 months without papers.

He asked me the time and when he realised we shared the same mother tongue, it didn’t take long for us to get chatting. He didn’t speak French (“Boro shokto bhasha!”) and stayed with 11 other Bangladeshis in an apartment in Paris that was originally meant for six people. He and a few flatmates, also without papers, earned their living by selling stuff at different weekly or monthly markets in different places. He explained how they went about it.

Each group that went to sell stuff consisted of four people. While two sold their wares, the others kept a watch to see if cops were around. As soon as they saw any policemen, they informed the sellers, who immediately put their stuff away. “Policemen in uniform are OK, but our problem are the ones in civil dress,” said Rubel, adding that they recently had had 500 Euros worth of goods confiscated. “I haven’t been able to send home any money since the beginning of this year,” he said sadly.

So how did he and his friends sustain themselves with apparently zero income? Rubel said the local cops knew about his illegal status in the country and had blocked his mobile phone and he had to report to the cops once in a while. So, he had filed a petition in a lower court that he was a political leader in Bangladesh and that there was political trouble going on there. So, he wanted refuge in France. However, the lower court said it had made inquiries with the government of Bangladesh and there was no trouble there and he could go home. Now, Rubel has appealed to a higher court to delay his deportation.

While the trial is on, the French government pays 320 Euros a month to the petitioner for sustenance. Rubel uses this money to pay his rent and also invest in the business.

What will he do when he loses at the higher court as well (which will evidently happen)? “I’ll go back home and start my own business there. I was a businessman before I went to the UK and now I have some more experience. My younger brother runs a shop back home, so it will not be much of a problem,” he said.

But what is the point of staying on in France when he cannot make any money here? “Everything is good when business is good. But since that is not working now, I am trying to find some work. This guy who owns a Pakistani restaurant has asked me to meet him. He quite likes me and I hope to find a job at his restaurant,” he said.

As the train nears Paris, he asks me: “Now that you are in France, why don’t you marry a French girl?” I told him I had no such plans.

I was not so desperate to get French citizenship.