The struggle of African students in France after fleeing Ukraine

Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, France has taken in more than 50,000 refugees, which allowed them to obtain temporary protection giving them the right to work or social and medical assistance. But foreign students in exile have been excluded from this system, and today they find themselves in a complex situation that threatens their university studies and career. Testimonials – Recommendations.

Quand il a fui la ville portuaire d’Odessa quelques jours après le début de la guerre en Ukraine, le 27 février, Merdi ne s’imaginait pas que son périple deviendrait un parcours du combatant pour resteril en France, est où Mars. “We thought France would welcome us, but that’s not all. We were told we didn’t have citizenship, we were only in Ukraine to study, and now we had to go home.” An old Congolese student.

The case of Merdi is not isolated: it is estimated the number of foreign students who fled Ukraine and who faced the same difficulties to survive on French soil, according to association statistics. Sisters of France.

The essence of the current problem, of an administrative nature, goes back to the beginning of March when most EU countries agreed to “quick aid” for people fleeing the conflict in Ukraine. It was decided to implement the Temporary Protection Directive – valid for three months in France – which grants many rights to exiles: the right to residence, access to the labor market, housing, education or social and medical assistance.

But foreign students residing in Ukraine were excluded from this emergency system. Several voices, including Pierre-Henri, president of France Fraternités, warned at the end of March in a column in La Croix newspaper that “screening refugees from Ukraine would fuel an accusation of discriminatory treatment”. He explained to France 24 that “France excluded foreign students from temporary protection by granting them a residence permit for a month and considered that their country of origin was not at war, and they could return.”

>> To read our report on France24.com: Mass immigration at the Ukraine-Poland border: “They are taking us back just because we are black!”

This is Saber’s case. This Algerian student fled Lviv (a city in western Ukraine a few dozen kilometers from the Polish border) when the war began at the end of February. “The prefecture only gave me a residence permit for one month, and now they want me to go back to Algeria. But I don’t want that, I spent a lot of money to be able to go to Ukraine, study and get a diploma,” the 25-year-old testifies.

“Kafka’s choice, not everyone’s choice.”

Once in Paris, on March 14, Sabar had a hard time for two days – “slept outside near a train station” – before finding a hotel hosting refugees. In a precarious administrative position, he simply wanted to continue his studies – brutally interrupted by the war in Ukraine – in France.

“I tried to enroll in several universities: in Paris, Marseille, Lyon, Strasbourg, Bordeaux … but they did not answer me,” he continues. “I will be told if I want a receipt for six months [un récépissé de demande de titre de séjour, NDLR] To be able to stay, I have to enroll in a university or get a promise of work. It’s not, I haven’t found anything in a month, and that’s my problem now. But I don’t want to leave.”

The same is true for Merdi, who is concerned about his current situation: “I am afraid that I will be told to go back to the Congo. If given the opportunity, I would like to continue my studies at a university here. The only thing I want is this.”

The special status of African students who fled Ukraine mobilizes many actors in France. Among them, a group of university presidents and lecturers worried about their fate, in a column in Le Monde published in early April, called for “continuing to train students whom Ukraine has chosen to welcome.” Far-left student political organizations, such as Le Poing Levé, are also trying to increase pressure on university presidencies to agree to place these foreign students caught in the middle.

“It’s a ridiculous situation, we chose Kafka’s choice rather than the protection option for everyone: we are moving towards situations with students who do not intend to return home, who will find themselves in an irregular situation on French soil and in a precarious situation,” explains Pierre-Henri. “It is a real mess, because these students speak French, half of their training has already been completed and it would be the best thing – logical, because their professional project was completely destroyed by the war – to allow them to enroll in France and complete their studies.”

Universities, however, began to change their stance and accept the registration of foreign students. “There are twenty in pre-reception, receiving registrations,” Matthew Schneider, head of the Higher Education Immigrant Network, explained to Echos Start on April 19.

Everyone is a victim of this war.

However, the administrative status of the students is not settled in this case, the prefectures prefer each case individually, and decisions seem to differ from one department to another: several other people have been contacted – including a Congolese student residing in Aveyron – declaring a residence permit Temporary for several months, not just one as it seems.

What is the general rule that prevails in the end? The Ministry of the Interior has joined France 24, detailing the arrangements available to persons eligible for temporary protection, notably through the public body Campus France, which allows eligible persons to apply for enrollment in French higher education.

Regarding the situation of foreign students who are currently facing difficulty in France, Place Beauvau responded that “the treatment of third-country nationals is only in implementation of the decision of the Council of the European Union to activate the mechanism [de protection temporaire]. If a third-country national is not eligible for temporary protection, he is entitled to return to his country of origin. “However, other countries have chosen to adapt the framework provided by the European Union and welcome all people fleeing Ukraine, without discrimination, such as Portugal and Spain.

A vision with a changing geometry depending on the EU member states, which the Council of Europe was also concerned about, in a report published at the beginning of April, evokes a welcome “double standards” towards refugees, asylum seekers and migrants depending on their country of origin.

Thus, international students have a few options available: either go to those countries that have decided to universally welcome all people fleeing Ukraine, or return to their country of origin, or apply for a residence permit or asylum for some other reason (you have a student or employee Or the private and family life permit) – provided that you meet the required conditions.

Sabbar and Merdi have an appointment in the province in the next few days to determine their future. The young Algerian “wants to continue his studies and stay in France, this is the best thing that can happen to us,” he said.

The Congolese student, still does not understand why he was treated differently from another refugee: “No one wanted to leave Ukraine to come to France. It’s not our fault, it’s the war that caused all these problems. Everyone is a victim of this war: Ukrainians are their country, but we lived there. Also, we also paid for the university. We have the right to be treated like them today and there should be no difference.”

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