At 14, you don't tell your parents everything. In France as in Ivory Coast. Laurent Barthélémy Ani Guibahi had hidden his dreams of travel, the Eiffel Tower, exile from them ... If he had known, his father would have tried to dissuade him. "I would have told him that it was not yet time. That at 14, he could not go on an adventure, recognizes Marius Ani Oulakolé, 50, plagued by mourning. I would have asked him: where are you going to go? Who will give you food? "
Laurent carried out his plan in the greatest secrecy. Monday January 6, he stuffs clothes in his bag: a chic outfit, bought for the New Year celebrations, and the sports jersey of his school, the Simone-Ehivet-Gbagbo high school, in Yopougon, a popular district of Abidjan. And take the road to Félix-Houphouët-Boigny airport.
But the dream of the Ivorian teenager turns into a nightmare. His body was discovered on Wednesday January 8 at around 6:40 am in Paris, at Roissy airport, in the well of the landing gear of an Air France aircraft. According to the first observations, Laurent died of cold or because of the lack of oxygen. Temperatures drop to -50 ° C above 9200 m, the altitude of commercial flights, and the space where the landing gear is housed is neither heated nor pressurized.
In France, the Bobigny public prosecutor's office (Seine-Saint-Denis) instructed the air transport gendarmerie to carry out the investigation. In Côte d'Ivoire, the authorities viewed the recordings of surveillance cameras. "We can see an individual wearing a t-shirt," said Amadou Koné, the Minister of Transport. We believe he had access to the airport space by climbing the wall. Then, he hid in the green spaces and grabbed onto the landing gear. "
"I took care of my children"
Laurent's bag is found on the tarmac in Abidjan. Inside, the sports jersey leads the Ivorian gendarmes to his father. For two days already, Marius has been looking for his son. Man gives home lessons in math and physics. On Monday January 6, like every morning, he leaves 600 CFA francs (about 0.90 euro) for his child before going to work: 200 CFA francs for the round trip by taxi to the school, ten minutes by car, the rest for his midday meal.
"I greeted him, without suspecting anything," recalls the father. But, in the evening, the boy does not come home. Marius then warns Laurent's mom - the couple has been separated for a long time -, the school, and finally the police. A wanted poster is posted in the neighborhood. On this one, a photo of the disappeared shows him thoughtfully, a round boil, thin lips, in traditional clothes ... "The gendarmes asked me to come to the airport," says Marius. They showed me a photo on a phone. I recognized my child's body. "
The family lived by little, settled in a shanty town: basic shacks erected on a non-building plot, next to a high-voltage line. You have to cross a dense market, sheltered from the sun by thick sheets, filled with shouts, fragrant fish and multicolored peppers, before reaching the maisonette, a two-room apartment of less than 15 m2.
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Laurent, whom his relatives nicknamed Prince, lived with his father and his new partner, a half-brother and a half-sister, younger than him. “To say that my child is from a poor family and that this is why he left is insulting! Warns the dad, his eyes black with anger. Worthy, sitting on a plastic chair in front of his house, he tries to contain his distress and tears, while relatives and neighbors crowd in the alley to support him.
“My two grown sons and my oldest daughter went to school. I took care of my children, ”continues the father. His partner, Lou Agnès Adjoua Goore, 42, has been raising Laurent for his 3 years: “We are poor, but we have made efforts to buy him two outfits for the holidays. I heated the water for him to wash. I made him his meals. There was always something to eat with us. She shows a large orange plastic dinosaur at her feet. A toy as ridiculous proof that the boy lacked nothing.
No adult suspected that he was preparing for his departure
"He was quiet, happy, he was very attached to us, his big brothers, when we came to see him," says Aristotle, 26, a graduate in sheet metal work, born from a first union of the father. With him, Laurent, supporter of Barça (the Barcelona football club), follows the matches on TV, and watches reports from the National Geographic channel.
His father evokes a serious child "like the others". "He was not violent, not mean, not brawler. He did not smoke, drink or wander. He loved books, math and physics. His family imagined him studying science later. Last year, Laurent had followed his 5th in Gagnoa, a city in the center of the country, where the father is from. The blended family was to join him there. Installed with an uncle, he was a good student, earning 14.5 out of 20 on average in class. Everything was fine until the trauma: one of his friends was stabbed during the great strikes which, a year ago, paralyzed Ivorian schools.
At the end of 2019, the family moving project was abandoned, and Laurent returned to Abidjan, integrating the Simone-Ehivet-Gbagbo high school, in 4th grade. He is no longer the same. His notes drop. Its average is around 9. No adult suspects that he is preparing for his departure. “I never talked about France with him. He never talked about France with me, ”insists the father. Same observation in his stepmother or his big brothers. "We were not in his head and in his dreams," recognizes Aristotle. Laurent has no family in France to help him.
In fact, none of his close relatives went to Europe. "I have never even seen Abidjan airport," breathes Alphonsine, 52, her mother, who lives further away in Yopougon, and sees her boy during the school holidays. "I loved him so much. It was I who gave him his little name Prince. He was my only son. He never told me he was not happy. "
Staff and teachers at the school did not notice anything either. The public establishment welcomes 6000 children, from 6th to 12th grade. Due to lack of space, half of the students have lessons in the morning and the other half in the afternoon. Classes do not have windows, but openwork walls allowing air to pass through. The middle school students shake three in front of desks intended for two.
Uniform is compulsory: beige suit for boys, white blouse and long blue skirt for girls. The 4th 2, that of Laurent, has more than a hundred students, according to a supervisor. "75 to 80," corrects Liliane N'Goran, deputy head of the establishment. If his results were poor, Laurent had no behavioral problems. "I didn't know his intentions," says Antoine Mel, the educator in charge of his class. But we are in Africa, and the Africans think that Europe is the El Dorado. It's normal to find this idea in children's heads. "
Although growing rapidly - for the seventh consecutive year, gross domestic product exceeded 7% increase in 2019 -, Côte d'Ivoire ranks third among West African countries in terms of number of illegal migrants, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
Educate children about the risks of exile
At 14, you don't tell your parents everything. But we talk to friends. "He announced that he would leave," says Samira, also 14. I thought it would be for later, but I could see in his eyes that he was serious. "
Samira, Arielle, Emmanuel, Sédik ... Her comrades knew their boyfriend's dreams of exile. "He would go abroad and he would come back rich," says Sédik, 13. He wanted to become a footballer or a scientist. Other children said that Laurent spoke of the Eiffel Tower, or tried to imitate the accent of the Whites. "He declared that he would go to France and that, when he returned, we could not recognize him," continues Samira. It hurts me to know that he is dead, but he was at the end of his will. "
The children knew much more. And in particular that Laurent, who did not have a telephone, frequented internet cafes. He was still there the day before he disappeared. "Has anyone brainwashed him?" Asks his father, convinced, like the whole family, that he could not have acted without "complicity".
The airport is more than 30 km away. It is far, on foot, for a boy who never leaves his neighborhood. And, on the spot, how did he alone cross the surrounding wall, two to three meters high and topped with barbed wire, to reach the tarmac? "Me, at 26, I don't feel able to do that! Confesses Aristotle, the big brother. Did smugglers intervene? In this case, with what money could the adolescent have paid them?
The family is asking for answers. And the remains of his little Prince. The Ivorian authorities having officially confirmed his identity, France issued, at the end of last week, a burial permit for the body of the minor. The repatriation procedure is underway, assured, Monday, January 20, the prosecution of Bobigny.
In the meantime, at Simone-Ehivet-Gbagbo high school, the educators have started a dialogue with the children to make them aware of the risks linked to exile. A non-governmental organization, made up of migrants who failed in their project, was invited to intervene in the establishment. For their part, the Ivorian authorities have indicated that they have strengthened airport security and are preparing to evict the inhabitants of a part of the working-class area adjoining it, "in order to establish a security buffer zone" of 200 m around the slopes. Will this be enough to stifle the dreams of the Ivorian youth?
On the highway, billboards always tout the destination France, from 289,000 CFA francs, or 440 euros round trip. Barrels at the airport prevent cars from parking along the city wall. Three kids climbed on these metal barrels. Standing, they watch the planes taking off, so close and yet inaccessible.