Marie, portrait of a female refugee in France


Sophie Lavergne

Marie, portrait of a female refugee in France

For International Women's Day, and in these sad times for hundreds of thousands of refugees escaping the war in Ukraine, especially women and children, Cooptalis highlights the integration journey of a woman who left Guinea alone. Arrived in France in 2018, Marie's story is an example of strength, resilience and commitment, a breath of hope for those who are on the road today, a source of inspiration for all.




The Geneva Refugee Convention and International Human Rights treaties protect men and women equally. However, in practice, inequalities still remain. Risks are increased. When fleeing for safety or migrating for a better life, women and girls often face human trafficking, forced marriage, gender-based violence, sexual abuse and violence, and racial discrimination. Girls, pregnant women, mothers with young children, and those facing crossed discrimination are particularly vulnerable. Persecution acts, specifically towards women, such as domestic violence, sexual violence, and human trafficking, are not always recognized as reasons for exodus. Despite established standards, in many cases the measures put in place are inappropriate and do not meet the protection and integration needs of migrant, refugee and asylum-seeking women and girls. There is also a need for action in the area of safe housing. There are plenty of areas for improvement.

Marie, 34, an administrative assistant currently in training and on an accounting internship, mother of a 1-year-old girl, is one of the (too many) rare women benefiting from the Mercure program, set up by Cooptalis in 2019 to facilitate the professional integration of refugees.



“I make my own resolutions to succeed. For example, this year I am learning each day a new synonym.”



Where do you come from?

From Guinea Conakry, I am French speaking.

When did you arrive in France?

In 2018, traveling through Germany (arrived in Europe in Frankfurt). I obtained refugee status in 2019.
I am assisted by the association AIR (Accueil Insertion Rencontre). Coralie, my referent, is a key person in my journey in France. She is the one who accompanies me and allowed me to become a beneficiary of Cooptalis' Mercure program for the professional integration of refugees.

Where do you live?

I live in Lille area.

Have you done any studies?

Yes, in my country I studied accounting and worked as an administrative assistant. In France I am currently following a training course. I am attending French and IT courses.

I want to have a diploma, a French professional title. If everything goes well, I will take the exam in December. Then I will start a 6-week internship in the accounting department of Cooptalis.

Do you have any children?

Yes, I have a 1 year old daughter. She was born in France and goes to daycare.

What challenges and difficulties have you met during your professional career? Any difficulties that you have encountered, especially because you are a woman?

When I arrived, I didn't know anyone. It was difficult. It was difficult to be separated from my family and friends, and culturally challenging to understand the society around me.
And then, the safety issues are real and worrying.

Finding accommodation as a single woman is almost impossible. The places to stay are primarily for women with children. When you arrive alone like me, not knowing anyone, you ask for help. It's scary and very difficult to understand the system, to know what you can and cannot get.

How did your integration in France go?

As I said, I didn't know anyone when I arrived in France. It's difficult to accept and understand your new environment, you have very few or no landmarks.

When I got my first job, I was able to find a place to live and have my own keys. It was much better. But I was also very lonely. Loneliness is hard and socially, at work, the difference is complicated to handle.

How did you find your current training?

The AIR supported me a lot, to find a first job and then, to train me.
Even if it was the same job as in Guinea and there are similarities between working in Guinea and in France, there are also some differences: the equipment, a faster Internet connection, the working practices and conditions.

I had a first job as an administrative assistant with good results. They wanted to hire me. But I also and mostly wanted to train myself. Coralie from AIR introduced me to the Mercure program. That's where I was offered a training program. I took the opportunity. I have a little girl. It's very important for me to have a degree, I'll be proud of myself when I'll graduate. I make my own resolutions to succeed. For example, this year I am learning each day a new synonym.

I have other, longer-term plans. I want to be an entrepreneur. For a while I worked in Lesquin, near Lille, in an electrical appliance recycling company. In Africa, there are only a few initiatives of this type. I would like to bring this idea to the African environment...





Sophie Lavergne

by Sophie Lavergne