When children leave on a one-way holiday

Felix Moncada Suarez and his family had prepared themselves to board the flight from Roissy airport near Paris for the Ecuador capital Quito on the evening of May 19. It was not a flight they wanted to take.

At the very last minute, the ministry of the interior reversed its ruling to expel the family from France.
And so Felix is still in France with his wife and their two children, a 13-year-old girl and a nine-year-old boy.

However, staying on could mean prolonged agony, not good news.

The Moncadas, who have been living illegally in France since 2000, may face expulsion again after June 30. Once again the police could take them to the airport, and this time they could be forced to board a flight to Ecuador.

“We are putting pressure on the government to legalise the Moncadas’ residence status in France,” said Annette Huraux, member of the Ecumenical Mutual Aid Service (Cimade), a Catholic organisation helping immigrants.

Cimade campaigned against the expulsion of the Moncadas the first time round.

“We bombarded the ministry of the interior with phone calls, letters, e-mails, and lists with hundreds of signatures defending the rights of the Moncadas’ children to stay in France at least until the end of the school year,” Huraux said.

In October last year, the ministry of the interior passed an order declaring that about 30 000 immigrant children, youth and their parents living illegally in France must leave by June 30 this year.

That deadline is directly linked to the 2005-2006 school year. The targeted immigrant families face expulsion just before the summer break from July 1.

The decision is a part of the French policy of curbing immigration. The expulsions have been rising year after year. The government forced out about 16 000 immigrants in 2004, and almost 20 000 in 2005. This year the number is expected to rise to 30 000.

“This is such an inhuman policy, especially for the two Moncada children who have spent most of their lives in France, and successfully go to school here,” said Richard Moyon, member of the French humanitarian network Education sans Frontières.

“Since mid-April, Felix was detained in a government expulsion centre near Roissy airport for almost one month,” Moyon said.

“His wife and their two children were detained on the eve of the scheduled expulsion.”

The Moncadas have been lucky—so far. It helped that not many Ecuadorians, or South Americans for that matter, live in France illegally, which meant they were booked on a commercial flight. In the case of immigrants from Maghreb or sub-Saharan African countries, deportations take place en masse, and are rarely halted.

“Most of the time the deportations are coordinated with other European countries,” said Cimade member Frederic Carrillon.

“For instance, if the German government is expelling several immigrants from the Maghreb countries, it would charter an airplane. If there is still room in the plane, the German authorities call their colleagues in Paris, and ask whether there are illegal immigrants from Algeria, or Morocco, to be deported. If this is the case, the German charter flight stops in Paris, and loads more immigrants to be deported from here.”

The October 2005 order allows children of immigrant families living illegally in France to complete the school year, but many expulsions have already taken place.

On May 13 the French police picked up Mariam and her three-year-old daughter Aïssata Sylla and five-year-old son Mohamed, and loaded them on a flight to Mali. Both children, born in France, attended a nursery school in Orleans, 100km south of Paris.

But following protest by teachers, church organisations and parents, a tribunal in Paris ruled that the deportation was illegal, and that the family could travel back to Orleans. They are expected back soon.

“I am the mother of one of Mohamed’s classfellows at the nursery school,” said Isabelle Fenioux, a neighbour of the Sylla family in Orleans. “We, my son and I, are very upset over the fate of these children. I myself, who have met Mohamed and her mother practically every day for years, never realised this family’s agony.”

In a letter to activists who campaigned to stop the deportation, she said: “I have to thank all of them who have risen against the ignominy committed against this family in the name of France.”

Education sans Frontières says the French government has to accept medical responsibilities arising from its decision to expel Aïssata and Mohamed.

In a statement, the group urged the government to “give [the Sylla family] a permanent residence permit in France, guarantee them decent living conditions, and see that the children are medically and psychologically counselled. We shall not accept that after June 30 Mariam, Mohamed and Aïssata are again deported from France.”

But only a few win such support to stay on.

Amine Bouaziz was born in Algiers in March 1988. In 2001 he was adopted by his uncle, a French citizen living in the southern city of Perpignan near the Spanish border. That adoption was a matter of survival for him. Amine’s father is in a psychiatric hospital in Algeria, and his mother cannot afford to look after him.

Amine has completed school and was preparing for university. But on May 15 he was captured by a French police squad. On May 22 a tribunal in Montpellier rejected his demand to stay on in France to pursue his university studies.

“We could not convince the authorities to extend him a residence permit,” said his legal counsellor Aude Gangloff. “He is likely to be expelled from France in the coming weeks.” - IPS