Smart migrant Harouss knows his fortune lies beyond Europe

Smart migrant Harouss knows his fortune lies beyond Europe
6 min read
04 May, 2017
Meet Harouss, the character from the Tunisian web series who thinks the European dream is not all that it's cracked up to be, writes Timothée Vinchon.
More and more Tunisian's are seeking success in Asia [Anys Fatnassi]
Anys Fatnassi, 34, is always on the move. After spending ten years in Asia, China then Vietnam, it is hard to know where he will be in the months, or even the days ahead.

An accounting graduate, he served in many jobs as varied as a comedian or a logistics manager in the electronics industry. But for now, he is in Tunisia and focuses on his project "Harrouss, the smart migrant". This web series, with a
Facebook community which has rapidly grown - more than 20,000 fans of the page - summarises Fatnassi's philosophy: Never set limits and always be curious.

The web series is based on a small (doll-size) fictional character called Harrouss, who represents a young Tunisian looking for a brighter future. Through a series of videos gathering the testimonies of Tunisians settled in the four corners of Asia, the project aims to push young Tunisians to look further afield than Europe.

Despite the fact that the Old Continent is increasingly affected by unemployment and a sluggish economic growth,
it still houses 85 percent of Tunisians living abroad.

"Harrouss said to himself, 'What if I went to see these countries that are called emerging countries? These countries that are not very well known in Tunisia'," says Fatnassi.

According to the last census,
there were only 1,383 Tunisians in Asia in 2012. Fatnassi has interviewed three of them. They have different stories and backgrounds, but all agree on one point: The economic boom in these countries offers many opportunities and there they can enjoy a very good quality of life.

Poker move, but smart move

Nacer Hayouni, 35, is an entrepreneur in Shanghai. He studied in Tunisia and was then accepted into a prestigious French engineering school. There, he had the opportunity to do an internship in Thailand. That was the trigger: "After this, I thought that if I went back to France to finish my school and find a classical job, it would be the prospect of a boring life. I figured that it was absolutely necessary that I found a way to leave for a more exciting life," he says.
For many Tunisian families, success abroad equals Europe
Hayouni decided he wanted to do his last year of study in China. Back home in Tunisia on holiday, he received confirmation of his admission to a Chinese school only three days before his departure. But announcing his departure to his mother was an ordeal. For many Tunisian families, success abroad equals Europe. So the young man decided to set up a strategy to tell his mother he was going to China.
Khawla Jebri Cherif, 32, who has been living in Beijing for 10 years, is an anchorwoman for the Arabic news channel of the Chinese national television [Anys Fatnassi]

On the first day, he began with a very general discussion about China. Hayouni's mother reacted positively: "China! It is an extraordinary country, a great culture, a 5000-year-old civilization... " On the fateful day, he announced his decision to leave. He recalls her saying: "You know what, son? First, get your diploma in France. Then, I'll pay you three weeks of holidays in China. You go there, you look at the Great Wall, and you come back".

Nearly 11 years later, installed in Shanghai, Hayouni does not regret his choice. After jumping from opportunity to opportunity, he set up his own business which now attracts many international customers. He will soon marry his Russian girlfriend, who he met in Shanghai. His mother, now proud of him, went to China for a holiday and visited the Great Wall with his son.

"Here, you're judged only by your job"

Mehdi Lamloum, 34, works in digital and advertising in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, after living for a year and a half in Hong Kong. Having the feeling he had done enough in Tunisia, he decided to leave after the Revolution of 2011:

"2011 and 2012 were quite busy years in Tunisia. I wondered about my professional future. Like everyone else, I felt a big breath of hope. We had regained our dignity somehow after the Revolution. To work somewhere outside Tunisia was my dream, it was time to live it," he says.

Nacer Hayouni, 35, who has been living in Shanghai for 11 years, is an entrepreneur [Anys Fatnassi]

But Europe wasn't what he had in mind: "Europe has never really been on my radar. People think about it because it is the easiest solution. But Europe is not interesting economically." Lamloum also says he experiences less xenophobia in Asia than he would have in Europe: "Here, people don't care if you're Tunisian. You're only judged on your job, so you don't start with a handicap".

Lamloum insists on the quality of life there, and the low cost of living compared to Europe. Integration, in Hong Kong or Kuala Lumpur, was fast. The international communities in these two enormous cities makes it easy to meet people from everywhere in the world. Regarding cultural differences, Lamloum debunks the idea that it can be an obstacle: "The Chinese culture for example, you're a little bit apprehensive about it at first. But then, if you are open-minded, you'll go there hoping to learn something, and you'll learn fast".

Khawla Jebri Cherif, who has been living in Beijing for 10 years, is an anchorwoman for the Arabic news channel of Chinese national television

Khawla Jebri Cherif, who has been living in Beijing for 10 years, is an anchorwoman for the Arabic news channel of Chinese national television. A graduate in multimedia and cinema, she made the jump by applying for a scholarship after reading a prospectus displayed in her school. She is now fully integrated into her new country.

She confirms Lamloum's statement on integration: "At first, the Chinese language seems very complicated. You arrive and people only communicate in Chinese." But she quickly took classes to converse and speaks fluent Chinese today. "When I am at home with my Tunisian husband, I sometimes find my words only in Chinese!" she says, smiling.

A new migration route?

Mohamed Kriaa, a researcher at Tunis Higher Institute of Management and a specialist in labour migration in Tunisia, does not look at these potential new migration destinations with a bad eye. "In these new markets, it would be beneficial to set up an organised migration. The return to Tunisia is not the most important. It is the positive impact which matters, whether human or in terms of qualification or financial: It will allow the mobilisation of resources and the improvement of profiles", he says.

The videos of Harrouss provoked many different reactions. Hayouni received numerous messages, asking if coming to Shanghai was the seal of success. He is definite about it every time: "The answer is no. You have to come up with something and fight to get there. We are not going to offer you a job and a salary of €5,000 a month on a silver platter, just because you are a foreigner".

Fatnassy receives more than twenty messages a day, proof of the thirst for discoveries of young Tunisians: "There are many interactions. I sometimes feel like an immigration coach / travel agency / life coach". He also receives some criticism, from people who accuse him of organising the brain drain.

Fatnassy provides a clear answer: "Immigration is a necessity. Most young people will leave anyway, because economically there is no other choice. But where, how, and why? What are the good destinations? It is better to advise them, rather to tell them not to leave".