Three years after setting himself on fireplace, Anas, image of pupil misery, testifies: “I used to be exhausted”

Clad in black clothing that camouflages his scar-covered body and equipped with a futuristic prosthetic in his right hand, the 25-year-old drinks a Perrier puck in a Lyon guinguette after a demonstration marking the October 18 inter-industry strike day was organized.

“It is important to me that I always take part in such events”, he confides to AFP, raising his round glasses that keep slipping on his burn-eaten nose. Anas has been very active in the socialist movement for his 15 years and remains, for some, a symbol of the hardship young students sometimes face.

On November 8, 2019 at 2:50 p.m., he decided to kill himself in a spectacular gesture.

“I got a can from the train station next door, poured five liters of petrol into it, threw it over my head and lit the fire with some kind of lighter.”, he lets out in a neutral tone to downplay his act, which burned him in the third degree, at more than 75%. Why? “Because nothing worked”: Burnout due to intensive union work parallel to his studies, financial difficulties combined with loss of scholarships due to failing three times in the second year of the license to practice medicine, according to “very” depressive behavior worsened he has an underactive thyroid… “I was exhausted”, confides the Franco-Moroccan born in Saint-Étienne. He was looking for a “shock way to show it” and “When you’re all alone, you have two choices: murder or attempting suicide in public.”

The student and activist who set himself on fire 3 years earlier, on November 8, 2019, to denounce the precariousness of students, Anas Kournif, 25 years old, poses at his CROUS accommodation in Lyon on November 18, 2022.  (Photo by JEFF PACHOUD / AFP)

He then wrote a “political testament” to highlight “the students’ problems” and “tell people to keep fighting” even when he “had decided to quit.”

“His gesture brought the topic of student precariousness into the public debate”Magalie, 22, her friend since 2018, firmly believes that “mental stress in connection with (their) living conditions”.

“Studying is survival for some students and Anas paid the price for it. This precariousness, he will have ingrained it in his life and fortunately he is always there to talk about it.”adds the sociology student at Lyon 2.

“Live my life”

After being “rescued” by Kevin, “a guy from the construction site next door,” who grabbed a fire extinguisher to put out the flames, the pain from the burns followed, five months of induced coma, three months of uninterrupted care, all interrupted by Operations – between 30 and 45 according to his statements “maybe even more”, Anas hesitates.

He is leaving the rehabilitation center on April 30, 2021 to demonstrate on May 1st. “It had to be, it was way too symbolic. I did the demonstration, my feet hurt because I’m completely amputated from one toe and partially from three others, but it wasn’t a problem”he assures.

Now an L3 student in Political Science at Lyon 2, his beliefs have not changed “except in relation to disability”, nuance the one who has become a scholarship holder again and is now on the Disabled Adults Allowance (AAH).

“When we found out that he was coming back, we quickly organized ourselves to give him the best possible opportunity to get back into student life and to give him the best possible chance of success in his educational project.”testifies Nathalie Dompnier, President of the Lumière University, referring to the adjustment of the annual exams, courses adapted to her doctor’s appointments and the support of the Disabled Mission. “I live a normal student life‘ Anas confirms despite the aftermath. “People’s gaze can be a bit difficult. They’re not likely to sit next to me on the subway.”he says.

but “I didn’t let this thing get me down and if I got out of there it was to do something and live my life”asserts the one who, after his master’s degree, is headed for the customs investigation competition and wants to set up his own union and party.

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