From Bamako to Niamey, the announcement of the suspension of visa applications plunges students into uncertainty

David*, 22, is counting the days

From Bamako to Niamey, the announcement of the suspension of visa applications plunges students into uncertainty

David*, 22, is counting the days. His admission to the University of Angers will be canceled if he does not show up there by the end of September, but he is stuck in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso. Like other Burkinabé, Malian and Nigerien students, the young man has not been able to apply for a visa to France for several days. The reason ? The “security context” in these three countries led by juntas, invoked on September 16 by the Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs, requested by AFP.

“Campus France [the French agency for the promotion abroad of French higher education and the reception of foreign students in France] and visa services can no longer operate normally,” explained the Quai d'Orsay at the time, while ensuring that “artists, students and researchers already in France continue their activities and studies normally, and are welcome”.

A few days earlier, a controversy broke out after the publication of an administrative directive emanating from the regional directorates of cultural affairs which called on national drama and choreographic centers and national stages to cease all collaboration with the three Sahelian states. French President Emmanuel Macron subsequently qualified, assuring that there was “neither boycott nor reprisals” and that France would continue to welcome artists from the Sahel if they were in possession of visas.

But on the side of the Ministry of Research and Higher Education, which indicates “that there is no question of stopping existing cooperation with universities or other scientific establishments”, a certain embarrassment persists. In an email sent to university establishments dated August 31 and detailing the instructions from the Quai d'Orsay, the ministry said "it regrets the consequences of this situation for candidates for mobility in France", while specifying "that it constitutes a suspension of mobility and not a cancellation.

Collateral victims

The instruction, which also concerns the invitations of researchers to conferences and symposia, led to the suspension of scholarships for students who hold a visa. For other candidates for mobility in France, the future is also on hold. In Burkina Faso, at least 115 students admitted to French establishments are waiting for a visa, according to a count established by the Collective of Burkinabé Students. For most, the deadline for arrival in France is the end of September.

How do you bounce back as the academic year is about to begin? “I have been struggling since December to put together my study project. I put my time and my savings into it. I had bet everything on training in France. Now, it’s hard to project myself calmly. I feel stuck despite myself,” David laments.

The shortfall is also financial. “Between health insurance, making an appointment to submit my visa application and registering with Campus France, I spent around 250,000 CFA francs [some 380 euros],” calculates the Burkinabé student. “France is a sovereign country, I understand that. But we do not have to suffer the diplomatic crisis with our leaders. We are the collateral victims of history," he regrets, while hoping that the Quai d'Orsay's promise to "reassess the situation in the light of security developments in the region" will lead to a lifting rapid measurement.

In neighboring Mali, Moulaye Simpara was equally surprised. The 23-year-old computer science student was due to fly to Paris on September 20. He too had overcome administrative obstacles, passed the Campus France selection, then landed a place at a private university in Vincennes and paid the registration fees of 3,150 euros. He was preparing his meeting with Capago, the company to which the French authorities subcontract the handling of visa applications, when he discovered the decision of the Quai d'Orsay on social networks.

“An incomprehensible signal sent to African youth”

" I don't understand. I am disappointed and angry, he sighs. We, students, have nothing to do with the problems between France and Mali. Why punish us? » The Bamako student chose Vincennes to complete his training in engineering and networks. “A few weeks ago, the tax center where I was interning suffered a computer outage for four days. This resulted in major financial losses. Due to a lack of skills at home, the center called on a European technician to resolve the problem. I wanted to continue my studies in France to acquire expertise and return to serve my country,” he explains.

Despite the political and diplomatic tensions that have pitted Paris against the Sahelian capitals for two years, France has remained a favored destination for West African students. During the year 2022-2023, Campus France identified a total of 3,000 Malian students, 2,500 Burkinabés and 1,200 Nigeriens enrolled in higher education. The latter will be able to continue their studies in France. But the admission conditions are becoming more complicated.

Within the medical students association of Burkina Faso which he chairs, Cheikh Simpore notes these persistent difficulties for those trying to follow an internship in France. “French university hospitals were traditionally the host establishments for our students looking for a one-month internship. But faced with refusals of visas which cost 50,000 CFA francs [some 75 euros] and which are not reimbursed, for several years, they have turned to Belgium, Morocco or Cameroon. We also have doctors who have had to give up specialized training in France in recent days because of this measure,” he explains.

Even if the French authorities try to reassure about their desire to maintain links with nationals of the Sahel, the decision to suspend visas in the three countries arouses numerous criticisms on both sides of the Mediterranean.

“It is an incomprehensible signal sent to African youth, while President Macron’s entire strategy is precisely based on strengthening ties with this category of the population. When we go to the Montpellier summit, it’s to talk to these young people. It is also contrary to our values ​​and interests. Faced with the juntas, we embody a model of democracy and access to education. Establishing a balance of power with authoritarian regimes is defensible, but not with the populations that our development policies have always tried to help,” regrets an elected official from the majority.

“It is tactless to attack students, researchers and artists. They are France's natural allies because they often share the values ​​advocated by it. By attacking these categories, France risks reinforcing the rejection of which it claims to be a victim,” fears a West African minister.