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From afar, Haitians in Paris face grim reality of earthquake

By Stephanie Busari, CNN
  • There are an estimated 80,000 Haitians living in France and 12,000 of those live in Paris
  • 23-year-old Wilguerre Jocelyn's mother, aunt and brother-in-law were killed
  • Haitians in France say they are frustrated, sad and powerless

PARIS, France (CNN) -- When Wilguerre Jocelyn left Haiti for Paris 18 months ago in search of a better life, his mother kissed him goodbye and told him to look after himself.

He did not know it would be the last time he would see her alive.

Jocelyn said he dropped his phone in shock when he heard the news that his mother, aunt and brother-in-law perished in the devastating earthquake that struck Haiti on January 12.

"It was the worst news I'd ever heard in my life," he told CNN, his voice cracking with emotion, at a cafe near his home in the Paris suburbs. "I don't remember anything else."

"My cousin told me they were inside our house in Carrefour, which is 10 km from the capital Port-au-Prince, when the earthquake happened and the building fell."

Jocelyn lives thousands of miles away from his homeland in the capital of France, Haiti's former colonial power. Like Paris' other estimated 12,000 Haitians, he can only watch helplessly as the horrors of the earthquake have unfolded on their television screens.

Video: Haitians helping each other
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Many scan the media, desperately hoping to get a glimpse of a missing loved one. Jocelyn now faces the grim certainty that he, like others, will never see many of his relatives again.

His elder sister Nerlande escaped the quake unhurt because she had taken her three-week-old baby Neila to see the doctor at the hospital, Jocelyn said.

"But now they are living outside on the street, her baby has no milk, no water," Jocelyn said, clutching photographs of his family members including his brothers and twin sisters who did survive.

"There is no help or aid where they are in Carrefour. She has lost her home, her husband, everything. I don't know how she's going to cope."

Since the earthquake, Jocelyn has had trouble eating or sleeping. "Right now I'm finding life very difficult."

"I had spoken to my mom the day of the earthquake and she sounded fine, she asked if I was okay and keeping well in Paris," Jocelyn said. " She was a bit worried about me and my brother, but I told her not to worry.

"Every day I think of my mom. When I was leaving Haiti, it was really hard saying goodbye to her. We were very close as a family. She gave me a kiss and told me to look after myself.

"I was very sad and we were both crying. She was the best mom in the world and was always there for her children."

It's not just the death of his family that grieves the brothers but knowing that they will not be able to say goodbye to them or even give them proper burials.

"The bodies are being taken to mass graves or even burnt," said his brother, Waldo, 24. "It's a catastrophe and we can do nothing."

We have no money and can't send anything to our family now when they need us the most
--Waldo Jocelyn
  • Haiti
  • Earthquakes
  • Paris

Jocelyn, also known as "Wilgo," moved to Paris 18 months ago to live with his brother. But things have not turned out as he hoped and he and his brother have both been unemployed for months.

France faces higher-than-average youth unemployment compared to the rest of Europe, with one in four young people out of work, according to statistics from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

The brothers also have no legal immigration status in France and are known as "les sans-papiers," which loosely translates as "those without papers." They have applied for leave to remain in France and are awaiting a decision by the government.

However, this means they can't work legally and often rely on clandestine employment and odd jobs to survive.

Waldo Jocelyn explained that they have no way to help their family: "We have no money and can't send anything to our family now when they need us the most."

This feeling of frustration and helplessness is one shared on the streets of Paris. As he set out his vegetable stall in the 18th "arrondisement" of Paris, trader Samyl Louis stopped to tell CNN: "I'm very sad. There's only me over here in Paris.

"My mom and dad are in Haiti. All my family is there and I'm not able to be with them, see them and be by their side.

"My mom tried to escape during the earthquake and broke her leg. She's had no treatment and she is in a lot of pain and crying a lot.

"We're over here and are completely unable to help them. I'm very sad and very frustrated."

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