A year later, the broken trajectories of young Africans who fled Ukraine for France
They are the invisible refugees from the war in Ukraine. Students or athletes from Africa, all saw their projects shattered on February 24, 2022 in the early morning. For those who have chosen France, the afterlife is like an endless and exhausting journey. The relief of having survived the Russian bombs and the racist violence on the Ukrainian borders gave way to the feeling of living perpetually on borrowed time.
Because unlike Ukrainians, African refugees have been excluded from temporary protection. This European directive, activated on March 4, authorizes for a period of twelve months (renewable up to three years) access to work, housing, social and medical assistance across all Member States. A decision validated by the Council of State at the end of December in France.
“I didn’t want to leave”
Hans Mayela, 27, can’t stop waiting for his life to get back to normal. When the war broke out, the Congolese student living in Dnipro (central Ukraine) was at “three short months” of his doctorate in general medicine. He saw himself pursuing a specialization in orthopedics, then returning to Congo-Brazzaville. The first Russian bombings stunned him:
“I was in denial. I didn’t want to leave, I was thinking of all these sacrifices, all this money spent by my family to finance my studies. »
Hans Mayela accounts for his six years of study in Ukraine: nearly 22,000 dollars (about 20,600 euros). The student ends up jumping on a train to kyiv with his Congolese girlfriend, also a student. At the Polish border, in order to escape the discriminatory sorting practiced by certain Ukrainian agents against African nationals, Paola K. affirms that she is pregnant. The couple takes the direction of France, a country which seems familiar to them because of the language.
Arrived at the reception center for refugees in Paris, they are immediately accommodated by SOS Solidarités in an associative hotel located at the gates of Roissy-Charles-de-Gaulle airport. But for lack of having obtained a residence permit – their request is still in progress – the two students are forced to leave the premises. They are now staying with a friend in Vannes, from where they are trying to rebuild a professional and academic career.
“I want to be a doctor in a hospital, I didn’t make all these sacrifices to do another job”
Even if he was able to validate his doctorate thanks to online courses provided by his Ukrainian university, Hans Mayela cannot practice in France, for lack of a residence permit. He had to resign himself to training as a forklift driver to support them. “I didn’t make all these sacrifices to do another job. I want to be a doctor in a hospital, I was trained for that,” he despairs. He wants to practice in a public hospital, like his brother, a gynecologist in Allier.
“It’s a huge mess”
While some countries on the continent, such as Morocco, repatriated their nationals from the start of the Russian invasion, hundreds of Algerians, Cameroonians, Ivorians and Guineans remained in Europe. A thousand of them passed through France, only half would have stayed there. “Faced with the many difficulties encountered in France, a good number of these students tried their luck in neighboring countries such as Portugal, which did not sort out displaced persons” explains Abdelaziz Moundé, president of the association La Maison des Camerounais.
Among these young people, misunderstanding remains about the differentiated treatment practiced in France between Ukrainian refugees and nationals of third countries. While 2,000 Ukrainian students are enrolled in higher education and benefit from material and psychological assistance, their African comrades did not see the doors of universities open until July, following a circular from the Ministry of Higher Education issued after complaints from directors of establishments and associations.
“The discriminatory treatment suffered upon their arrival continues to have repercussions on their journey. And all the more so since their file is not a political priority, believes Pierre Henry, president of the association France Fraternités. However, they are an asset for France, which has not paid for their training and would benefit from supporting their reintegration. It’s a huge mess. »
In one year, the association has recorded 25 obligations to leave French territory (OQTF) among refugee students. Faced with the turmoil aroused by these notifications, the prefect responsible for receiving displaced people fleeing the conflict in Ukraine, Joseph Zimet, had promised a moratorium from June to September. However, a dozen people received it during this period. Administrative errors recognized by the ministry and which have not all been rectified to date. In addition, since the end of the moratorium, at least seven students, mostly Algerians, have also received OQTFs.
A faint glimmer emerged with the announcement in September of the granting of 200 one-year residence permits for African student refugees from Ukraine. But as the university year approaches its half, only a hundred titles have so far been awarded, according to consolidated figures from France Fraternités and La Maison des Camerounais. Solicited by The world, the Ministry of the Interior has not confirmed this count.
” I lost everything “
Alaedine Ayad got the precious sesame. A welcome respite after being OQTF last June. Thanks to his complete file (registration at the university, certificate of accommodation and presence of a solvent guarantor), the Algerian student can continue his studies in France, of course, but under difficult conditions. “The only place I found was in the third year of telecommunications at Paris-Sorbonne. This is a far cry from the doctorate in photovoltaic microelectronics that I was pursuing at the University of kyiv. I’m a little lost… One day, a teacher humiliated me on the blackboard because I have a lot of difficulties”, he explains:
” It’s hard to think that I lost everything. I invested all my savings to study in Ukraine. I live today with 600 euros per month thanks to a job of supervisor. At the end of the month, I barely have 200 euros left to eat. I’m worried about what’s next. If my title is not renewed in August, will I still receive an OQTF? »
The impression of a broken trajectory is also the feeling of Mohamed Zidane Diarrassouba, 17. The former Metalist 1925 Kharkiv player, a refugee in Caen, still clings to his dreams as a footballer. In the Ukrainian city, the young Ivorian played in the first division. In Normandy, he divides his days between high school, where he is taking a professional management baccalaureate, and his training at Maladrerie Omnisports, an amateur club. Bubbling, Mohamed Zidane Diarrassouba has the unpleasant feeling of living a relegation:
“I left Côte d’Ivoire at 14 to try my luck. I was playing in the first division in Ukraine. Today I was downgraded five grades. It’s difficult, because for me football is more than a hobby. »
His parents paid 3.5 million CFA francs (more than 5,300 euros) to finance his trip to Kharkiv. Approached by AS Cannes upon his arrival thanks to a Ukrainian acquaintance, he could not go there for tests because of his status as an isolated minor. From now on, he hopes to be noticed by a recruiter during championship matches. Quadrilingual (French, English, Russian, Bambara), he also aims to get his professional baccalaureate to study translation. He still keeps an eye on his former Ukrainian playmates via social networks:
“They have resumed training. Sometimes I stamp my feet, I tell myself that I should join them. I was fine there. »