Paris (AFP)

They are ragged and worn by the street, he dresses them tastefully.

Jérôme Baku, artist and Congolese asylum seeker, in Paris has dressed as a stylist for migrants, to whom he wants to "restore dignity".

His laughter is infectious but the young man of 29, dressed to the nines, always suffocates him quickly.

A mark of both sides of the life he has led since his arrival in France in 2018. The hassle linked to his application for refugee status of which he is still without news, on the one hand.

The light of his artistic activity between parades and aid to exiles, on the other.

For a few months, it is at the humanitarian stop, a Parisian daytime reception, that the couturier has put his sewing machine down and walks on the thread of this fragile balance.

This Tuesday in September, Covid epidemic obliges, about fifteen exiles, mostly Afghans, the body and the clothes marked by the stigmata of an unhealthy camp life, came to find with him what they did not find in no other distribution of clothing: beautiful.

"Style, appearance is important. Here they can choose. I tell them that you must not show that you are undocumented, because that will isolate you. You have to walk proudly, not to not be discriminated against ", says Jérôme Baku, gray beret, mustard sweater and banana worn over the shoulder.

His offer is simple: the migrants take a plain-colored T-shirt, then a wax, an African fabric, and select one of the twenty models designed by the native of Kinshasa, cradle of sapology, a movement which was inspired by elegance as an art of living.

- "Exchange courage" -

"I want to give them back their dignity. Change the view we have of immigrants," he insists.

"It's great that it's beautiful and, above all, that we are there with him to learn," applauds Mohammad Haroun, a 21-year-old Pakistani who came after having had all his things stolen from a nearby camp.

“I don't see him as an asylum seeker, but as an inspiration,” he explains, before leaving, like the others, smiling, thumbs up and a new T-shirt on his back.

"We exchange courage, as we are in the same situation," says Jérôme Baku, who lives in a reception center for asylum seekers in the Paris suburbs.

His presence allows "to forget a complicated daily life", appreciates Jérémy Barthez, head of service at the humanitarian stop, managed by the Salvation Army.

It is also an opportunity "for others to see that other people in the same administrative situation manage to get by, to develop their passion, to make it their profession", he explains.

The improvised stylist is not a tailor by trade, a passion developed late.

Before fleeing the Democratic Republic of Congo because of his "political opinions" and "persecution", he was a sculptor, after studying at the Beaux-arts in the capital Kinshasa.

Then he fled to Angola, before joining France.

- "Just an artist" -

"When you are an asylum seeker, to create, it's really difficult. I move forward, but inside, I know that I don't have the papers. It limits me", regrets Jérôme Baku, who found a breath oxygen at the Atelier des artistes en exile.

Judith Depaule, founder of the association, remembers seeing him knocking on her door, freshly arrived in France.

"He was immediately embarked on a huge story", as a fashion designer for a parade presented at the Palais de la Porte Dorée in Paris, in early 2019, she recalls.

"Artists in exile are the best mediators for migrants. Because they have had the same experience, the same history. We avoid the clumsy compassion aspect", judge Ms. Depaule.

"Here, I am not considered as an asylum seeker. I am simply an artist", appreciates Jérôme Baku, showing the workshop.

He is developing a new project there: to tell, with other artists, about Africa and "those who have no voice there".

© 2020 AFP