FECL 42 (March 1996):
Leila is 21 years old and a Moroccan citizen. In January, the police prefecture ordered her to leave the country. Before the administrative court seized with her appeal, the young woman implored the judge: "I don't speak Arabic, I have no religious faith; in Morocco I have nobody left". Her parents as well as her brothers and sisters have residence permits, but Leila entered France at the age of 12 and her parents failed to formally apply for family reunion. "She will just have to return to Morocco and apply for a visa there", the representative of the police prefecture argued at the hearing. But Leila's lawyer replied: "You know very well that my client will never obtain a visa after having been subject to a deportation order". The President of the Court finally annulled the order. But Leila still has no permit.
Youssef is 18 years old. His father came to France alone from Algeria in 1963. When he had earned enough money to move into a larger apartment after years of hard work, the whole family reunited in France. Youssef went to school there and is currently preparing for his college examination. When he applied for a new ID card at the police prefecture, he was told that in order to stay in France as an adult, you must have entered the country before the age of 10. This was the case for Youssef's two young brothers. But Youssef himself was 13 when he arrived in France. Consequently, he was notified his deportation: "We will come and fetch you - there is nothing we can do about this", the counter clerk at the prefecture told him.
Recently, Youssef celebrated his 18th birthday. He has still been attending school since, but is permanently on his guard, wherever he goes. Once he will have left college, he will not be allowed to work. "It seems I'm a clandestine now", Youssef sums it up.
Cheryl (14 years) and Richelda (7 years) have lost their mother, Lusiete. She was forcibly returned to Zaire, a year ago, together with her partner. Both had come to France 15 years ago as asylum seekers. In 1990 their application was definitively turned down. But Lusiete and her companion had already found work and a home, and decided to stay in France as clandestines. Everything went well until 1993, when they decided to apply for legal residence. The police eventually apprehended the two at their home in Orléans, while the children were in school. Confronted with a deportation order at the police station, the couple hastily decided that their children should not go to Zaire, because "we have nothing there, and our life is here". Lusete was sent to Zaire shortly after. Her companion refused to get on the plane. After three months in prison, he was released without documents and without a work permit.
Cheryl and Richelda, who were both born in France, were put in care of the social authorities and eventually placed with a French host family. In two years, Cheryl will be eligible for French citizenship, but her mother is unlikely to be allowed to return.
Personal tragedies like the above have become frequent as a result of recent stringent foreigners legislation. A law of 31 August 1993 has hardened the conditions for family reunion, which is now refused on grounds such as lack of "sufficient" income and "inappropriate" housing. Family reunion must further take place at the same time for all family members and family members applying for reunion may not do this in France. Thus, family members who attempt to regularise their stay after having entered France with a tourist visa are denied residence and are liable to deportation. On humanitarian grounds the previous law provided for issuing 10 year residence permits to children under 10 who had entered the country outside a family reunion procedure. This age limit has now been lowered to six years. Moreover, the smallest misconduct of a child brought to the knowledge of the authorities will stop them getting a residence permit.
The number of young foreigners forced into illegality is unknown and the government does not appear to be particularly interested in finding out. But according to the Interior Ministry, children in possession of tourist visas continue to pour into the country every day. "They settle in with their parents and never leave again".
According to GISTI, a Paris-based organisation providing assistance and information to migrant workers, there are two main patterns of separation affecting children:
1. Separations often occur, when refugee families arrive at French airports with insufficient travel documents. Pending a sometimes lengthy preliminary examination, the adults are detained in the extra-territorial area of the airport, while the children are placed in state-run homes by juvenile courts, since airports' international zones are rightly not considered suitable for the accommodation of children. In the mean time, the parents are deported.
2. Parents already living in France without a stay permit are summoned by the prefecture on the pretext of the "regularisation" of their situation. The parents are then arrested at the counter, and eventually deported. While all this is happening, the children are at school. At the end of the day nobody comes and fetches them, whereupon the police send them to the social services.
In both cases, a juvenile court must decide on whether to deport a child or not in due consideration of the interests and the well-being of the child in question. For the magistrate, this implies an assessment of the conditions of return for the child with respect to hygiene, health and food. In some cases, families hit by a deportation order implore the magistrate to keep the children in France. Regularly, magistrates are thus confronted with a dilemma: should they send a child to a country where his life is in danger or should they put him into state care and thus definitively separate him from his parents? The decision must be taken quickly as French deportation procedures are both speedy and brutal.
In some cases, parents simply disappear after having been returned to their home country. In this event, children are declared "abandoned" and may be adopted by a French family.
Sources: Libération, 2/3.3.96 For further information contact: Michèle Créoff, GISTI, 30 rue des Petites Ecuries, F-75010 Paris; Tel: +33/1 42470709; Fax: +33/1 42470747.