Deprived of visas, Sahelian students are collateral victims of tensions between France and putschist regimes

“For us, this year, France is over,” breathes Fodé*

Deprived of visas, Sahelian students are collateral victims of tensions between France and putschist regimes

“For us, this year, France is over,” breathes Fodé*. Admitted to the University of Angers in economics and management, the young Burkinabé will not study in France. Until September 30, the deadline to join the Angevin faculty, Fodé hoped to leave. But, like hundreds of other students from Burkina Faso, but also from Niger and Mali, also enrolled in French establishments, he was unable to submit his visa application. Since this summer, French consular services have been closed in these countries led by juntas, "for security reasons", the Ministry of Foreign Affairs explains.

The measure was announced in September in the midst of a diplomatic crisis between France and Niger. After the military took power at the end of July, Paris refused to recognize the new authorities, who still hold President Mohamed Bazoum captive. Tensions led to the hasty departure of French troops and the French ambassador.

Caught in the trap of these political dissensions, students from the states concerned oscillate between despair and incomprehension. The selection is so tough that Fodé thought he had done "the hardest part" by succeeding in obtaining admission via Campus France, the French agency for the promotion abroad of French higher education and the reception of foreign students in France. Unable to obtain a visa, he had to scale back his plans.

“I lost a golden opportunity.”

“I left an internship at the beginning of August because I hoped to go to France,” he explains. I have to find another one but even that is very difficult here in Ouagadougou. I feel like I lost a golden opportunity. » With other “blocked” comrades, he set up a collective of 115 students. “Some have fallen into depression, because they have no control over this situation which is overwhelming them. We implore our countries, they must find a diplomatic solution to get us out of this impasse. »

On the French side, we confirm the status quo while denying having taken a retaliatory measure against military regimes which display their hostility to France. “We must not reverse responsibilities, it is the juntas which are damaging our relations. We wish to preserve links with the driving forces of these societies, in particular students,” reacts the Quai d’Orsay. The ministry claims to have “no visibility on what happens next”, but ensures it is reassessing “the security conditions in these countries, so as to best adjust the measure”.

A sign of a slight lull, Campus France services reopened on October 1 in Mali and Burkina Faso. Students from these countries can again attempt admission to France for the next academic year... without guarantee of obtaining a visa. It remains to be seen whether those who had already been admitted will have to start the tedious procedure from scratch. “We have no information on this point,” we respond to Campus France.

" Heavy heart "

In Niger, where the platform remains closed “for security reasons”, the horizon appears more uncertain. Every time he passes the French consulate in Niamey, Houzaifa Hamma Issaka’s “heart sinks”. The Nigerien student with a law degree had obtained registration at the University of Nice. He was preparing to submit his visa application when the coup occurred. “My administrative procedures cost me 150,000 CFA francs (228 euros), or five times the average salary. Nothing was reimbursed to me and I find myself without study prospects,” laments the student who was aiming for a master’s degree in human rights.

Like him, nearly a hundred Nigeriens admitted to French public and private establishments lost an academic year. Distraught, some tried, in vain, to submit their visa application to neighboring Benin. “I drove 1,000 km to try my luck. But the agent refused, because I do not have a residence certificate. Why not digitize applications? », asks Ibrahim Maiga.

“The dematerialized option for submitting a visa is not possible neither in the Sahel nor elsewhere,” replies the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which argues for an immutable procedure. When submitting the file, the applicants' biometric data is taken and the passport is collected so that a sticker can be attached to it. »

“It was a shock.”

Some Sahelian students, beneficiaries of a French scholarship, were nevertheless more fortunate. Affected by the cessation of international mobility at the end of August following the “suspension of development aid”, they had learned a few days before their departure for France of the cancellation of their research stay. Then, at the beginning of October, the measure, denounced in academic circles, was lifted to allow them to go to France.

Koffi, a geography student at the University of Ouagadougou, was expected on September 1 at Paris-1 La Sorbonne. But two days before, he received a terse email. “In a few lines, they explained to me that my study trip was canceled. However, I had a visa and accommodation. It was a shock. » On November 1, he was finally able to fly to Paris with his initial six-month visa. “I will be able to study until the end of January. I am well off because some fellows have lost a lot of time with these restrictions. » Indeed, despite the unblocking of the situation, visa periods have not been extended.

A doctoral student in geography and holder of a scholarship awarded by the French embassy, ​​Hamidou Zougouri benefited from a visa valid from September to December. But he was only able to go to Paris at the beginning of October. “I lost a month of research,” he explains by telephone, having barely returned from France. “I still worked as well as possible thanks to the investment of my thesis director,” rejoices the student attached to the CNRS. “But we should have been informed of this decision weeks in advance so that we could organize ourselves. We had the impression that France was abandoning us in mid-flight. »