Debrouille and system D, the new everyday life of Ukrainian host families in France

In France, the war in Ukraine caused a wave of solidarity, prompting many French to open their doors to displaced people. Faced with a conflict that is bogged down, this welcome, initially planned with urgency, takes on the appearance of a long-term coexistence, with its share of administrative and financial burdens.

“We cook together, we clean together. We live as a family,” says Tatiana Dumaine, who hosts a Ukrainian woman, her two daughters aged 2 and 7 and their grandmother. But after more than a month of living together, the reality of shared housing has reached her and her husband. “We’re a little cramped in our apartment,” admits this 17-year-old residentAnd district of Paris. The hostess and her husband have installed an inflatable mattress on their mezzanine. This is where the mother and her youngest sleep. The grandmother and the eldest sleep in the only guest room.

Despite the lack of space, the couple takes the choice of spontaneous hospitality, without resorting to state services or an association specializing in homestays. A choice that does not follow the official French procedure: with the Russian invasion of Ukraine, since February 24, France has set up a system coordinated by each prefect. It is in this context that the vast majority of Ukrainians fleeing the war are welcomed. First they spend a few days in emergency accommodation, in a gym or hotel, then for several weeks they are housed in collective accommodation, for example in holiday centers.

Thirdly, individual housing is offered to displaced Ukrainians who do not want to return to their country. These accommodations are “made available for free or at low cost by local authorities, social owners or citizens”, according to the Cimade association. “The city housing, in a supervised form, will eventually be mobilized as a supplement”, specifies the Ministry of the Interior.

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“There has been an enormous mobilization of citizens towards Ukrainians which reflects a dynamic of welcome in our country. But welcoming at home is not something trivial, especially in the medium term”, relaunches Vincent Berne, director of the J’accueille system. , which supports the reception of displaced people in private homes, launched by the Singa association. “The problem is those who find themselves in a long-term solution and who have not necessarily taken the full measure of their commitment”, abounds Margaux Lemoîne, co-founder of “Mamans de Paris pour Ukraine”, a collective that leads together and coordinates more than 4,500 parents committed to helping displaced people in Île-de-France.

Limited budget and administrative complexity

Tatiana Dumaine had, for example, to change her habits. “We have to go to bed earlier for the children. We no longer smoke in the apartment,” describes this French-Russian who works in the cosmetics industry and now becomes a social worker. “I helped the family with the administrative paperwork … Public transport, social security, school for the children … It’s complicated for them. They got lost because they don’t speak French.”

Isabelle, who welcomes a mother and her daughter into her home near Maubeuge (northern France), is fighting for the 15-year-old Ukrainian teenager to go to school as soon as possible. “Fifteen ago she was asked to take a math exam. Next week she has to take a French exam. I told the Information and Orientation Center (CIO) where she is taking her exams: ‘At this speed, she’s not ready to go. you go to school this year. ‘And I was told:’ Too bad, he will go in September ‘”, says this 49-year-old management technician. “My heart hurts for her, because she wants to go to school.”

After a few weeks in France, school but also access to work become the key to emancipating oneself from the host family. But it is also an obstacle course for Ukrainian hosts and “their guests”. “In order for these families to find individual accommodation, they have to work, but to find a job, you have to send the children to school or have the little ones looked after”, says Margaux Lemoîne, of “Mamans de Paris pour Ukraine”, who underlines the lack of childcare places in Île-de-France.

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The language barrier is another major obstacle to accessing work for displaced people, most of whom speak only Russian and Ukrainian. “I went to a temporary agency with the mother and grandmother. They absolutely want to work. The agency said they were interested because there is a need for odd jobs, such as housekeeping and cleaning. Childcare. But we have to wait a few. week to improve their French level. They will have to pass a language test. I hope it goes well, “says Tatiana Dumaine.

The work would also allow displaced people to contribute to the needs of the host family. Even if the Ukrainian displaced people benefit from an allowance. It amounts to only 6.8 euros per person per day. Ukrainian families receive a supplement of € 7.4 per day. “It helps a lot”, rejoices Tatiana Dumaine, who admits, however, “to consume more electricity” and to have had to “adjust the budget for food.” “We prepare simpler and more convivial dishes. Ukrainian women buy basic products and with my husband we buy the most sophisticated products,” she explains. A simple organization in theory, but complicated in practice: sometimes it is necessary to wait several weeks before receiving the allowance.

“The state still helps a lot compared to other European countries, but as a host we are not entitled to any help,” complains Isabelle. “In thirty days the woman I welcome will receive the allowance, but I still have some expenses. We agreed that she would give me a part, but she does not have to because she is not taking them in for the money, but I think the state could be a little more grateful to those who welcome Ukrainians into their homes without going through the state circuit “, he continues.

“We can’t let them down”

To get help, Isabelle turns to food aid associations. “If I didn’t have Restos du Coeur and Secours Populaire, the food would have been out of my pocket. I can’t feed them all the time and they are aware of it,” she admits.

It does not seem to be the only one to have found this solution. In Montélimar (south-eastern France), for example, the Secours populaire has noticed an increase in demand from families. “The Ukrainians are accompanied by their host families. We help them, but I don’t know how long we will last”, worries local president Ouahiba Amara.

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To prevent the welcome from turning into a headache, Vincent Bern, director of the J’accueille system, advises “to approach the associations to be accompanied on the steps before opening their doors”.

“Thus, we have established a framework for coexistence and this avoids feeling alone after a few weeks of hospitality”, he explains. Singa asks, for example, to set an accommodation end date and to sign a cohabitation charter that includes the commitments of the guest, the people hosted and the association. The accompaniment includes informative appointments before the reception and regular follow-up. Singa also works with other associations to organize suitable support for each Ukrainian. “These collaborations are essential, because the guest’s role is to have fun and not carry out administrative procedures,” says Vincent Berne.

If this daily investment is sometimes a burden for welcoming families, Isabelle first of all emphasizes the richness of this human experience. “I’m lucky to have a super grateful family at home. They’re beautiful people, they’re very brave. I’m starting to get attached to them,” she says. Tatiana Dumaine also relativizes. “This experience has changed a lot of things in my daily life. But it is nothing compared to these people who have lost everything. They have been through such difficult things. We cannot let them down.”

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