Revelation : Haitians Unwanted in France

, par Marie Barbier

As the dramatic situation is getting out of hand on the island now devastated by cholera, Haitians living in France denounce the fact that, far from keeping its promises, the French government prevents their families from getting into France.

When he saw Éric Besson in Orly last week welcoming thirty-five Christians from Irak with great pomp, Yves Pierre-Louis saw red. “We are treated like dogs. And you know why ? Because we are Blacks, because we are Haitians.” This is just the latest humiliation for this French native of the island, who has been trying since the earthquake to get his two nieces into France : Kelandine, aged 8, the daughter of his brother and his brother-in-law, both of whom died in the earthquake, and Laoma, aged 11, daughter of his wife’s brother, who also died on January 12. But the French embassy in Port-au-Prince refuses to grant them visas. And like many Haitians living in France or French people native of the island who believed in the French government’s promises, Yves Pierre-Louis is at a loss for what to do, even as the cholera epidemic is spreading on the island.

A Gulf between Speeches and Reality

And yet, on the day after the earthquake, Éric Besson announced “exceptional measures to take in” the victims of the earthquake, notably, among other dispositions, the simplification of the conditions required for family reunification and facilities for the delivery of visas. These instructions still hold if we are to believe the “former” ministry for immigration, who, as recently as last week, declared that Préfets (the heads and representatives of the Republic’s executive in each département) had given orders to the effect that Haitians’ applications must be given top priority and treated more leniently.

Yet the gulf between the official discourse and reality is abysmal. “There has been no improvement, far from it,” Counsel Judith Duperoy-Paour denounces. “Haitians first believed in the promises, even though the declarations were only meant to satisfy public opinion. It is almost as bad as hitting someone who’s already been laid low."

For associations are unanimous : these measures have never been implemented. While the ministry maintains that the original papers are no longer demanded to file a request, testimonies are flowing in from all sides about requests being turned off for lack of authentic documents. Now in a country where the Public Records office no longer exists, it is just impossible to obtain authentic papers. And so Nacela Jean, whom we met last August (see l’Humanité’s August 24 issue) has been trying for months to lay hands on her birth certificate, the document being required for filing her request with the French Immigration and Integration Office (Ofii). This Haitian woman had left her three sons, aged 18, 15, and 13 in the charge of her sister, who later disappeared in the earthquake. Since then, the children have been left to shift for themselves. Nacela is going to Haiti in December in order to get the document herself.

A 16-year-old boy alone in Haiti.

When the Ofii makes no difficulty, the French embassy takes over by imposing drastic conditions for the delivery of visas. “The word ‘foreigner’ is enough to excite suspicion,” Nicola Laudrey, a militant of the Human Rights League deplores. “The arrogance of the préfets’ administrative services kills people : people are going to die because visas are not delivered.” In all the families living in France this fear is clearly omnipresent. Each hurricane or epidemic makes it worse. Since the death of his partner in 2007, Jean-Louis Soublin has been attempting to get his step-son and now official ward, aged 16, into France. All his requests for a visa have been turned down. He was really scared when after the earthquake the teenager called him to relate how he went “scraping in the neighbourhood houses” for a scrap of food. “I knew only too well for having seen it on TV how pillagers were shot down, but I can’t send him any money because he is under-age. He is on his own over there, all his family is in France.”

Being often unable to make the trip, families must organize the steps and procedures from France. “Parents are in despair because their children must queue all night long on their own,” Agnès Cluzel, an antiracist MRAP militant, relates. One solution might easily be resorted to : welcoming unaccompanied minors who have parents in France and facilitating procedures.

Because authorities have given no answer, the only solution associations consider possible is a legal suit. Only one family has gone to court so far : the Astréides (see l’Humanité’s August 24 issue). The préfet of Essonne, the département where they live, has been found guilty twice for denying this couple the right to bring home the husband’s three children on the pretext that their flat was too small by 6 square metres… The family’s reunification being at last accepted, the French embassy now demands an official document establishing the mother’s disappearance. As long as the procedure lasts, and it can take weeks, the children stay at the Red Cross asylum in Port-au-Prince, hoping that they can be in France by Christmas.

Translated by Isabelle Metral

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