By Lisa Vives
European countries have generously offered shelter to some of the 5.5 million people who fled the war in Ukraine launched on Feb. 24 with an unprovoked attack by Russia.
More than 50,000 have been welcomed by France and granted a temporary status that enables them to work and receive social and medical assistance.
But the offer excludes hundreds of foreign students, including most Africans, who could lose their university scholarships and possibly their professional careers.
“We thought France would welcome us, but that is not the case,” a Congolese student told the news service France24. “They tell us we don’t have a nationality – that we were in Ukraine only to study and now we have to go home.”
According to the Union des étudiants exiles (Union of Exiled Students) and the France Fraternités Union, there are around 1,000 foreign students who fled Ukraine and are experiencing difficulties staying in France.
“France excluded foreign students from the temporary protection measures by giving them a one-month residence permit instead,” said Pierre Henry, president of the France Fraternités union. The rationale being that “their countries are not at war, so they can go home”.
After arriving in Paris on March 14, Sabar, an Algerian student, endured two days of hardship before finding a hotel that welcomed refugees. “I slept outside near a train station,” he said.
He just wants to continue his studies in France. “I tried to enrol in several universities in Paris, Marseille, Lyon, Strasbourg, and Bordeaux. But they didn’t reply.”
The plight of the African students prompted a group of university presidents and lecturers to demand that France “continue educating the students that Ukraine chose to welcome.”
“These are French-speaking students,” Pierre Henry, president of the France Fraternités Union was quoted to say. ”Since half of their education is already complete and considering their professional prospects have been totally destroyed by the war, the logical thing would be to allow them to register in France and continue their studies.”
Unequal treatment between Ukrainians and non-European refugees has also been denounced by French NGOs. “It’s important to remember…that people from many different countries are also here fleeing the most terrible conflicts and the fear of persecution. We should be welcoming all of them,” Care4Calais said in a recent Twitter post.
“It is an absurd situation,” Henry said. “We have chosen the Kafkaesque option rather than offering protection for all.”