Betty, 43, from Ghana living in France

“I was transferred to a detention centre in order to be sent back to Ghana, but was told my children would be staying in France. I was so upset.”

Betty* arrived in France 20 years ago. She is the mother of four children who have only lived in France. She was sentenced by a criminal court to five years in prison and a legal ban from France. This means that, as long as the legal ban is not deleted, she cannot apply for a residence permit. She asked several times to be put under house arrest, which is a preliminary condition in this procedure, but never received an answer from the French authorities. She does not have a passport, and the Ghanaian consulate refused to give her a travel document. Even so, Betty ended up spending 45 days in an Immigration Detention Centre (IDC).

A move made 20 years ago
I entered France with a tourist visa in 1993. I tried to obtain a stay document, but not straight after my arrival in France. The first time I asked for a residence permit was in 1996, after the birth of my first child. However, my application was dismissed due to lack of evidence.

I got married in November 2001 with a Ghanaian man. He is the father of my first three children. Two weeks later, we were arrested by the police and then imprisoned. I was released until my trial. In 2003, I was sentenced to five years in prison and my husband to seven years. We lodged an appeal. In 2004, the appeal court confirmed the five-year prison sentence and also condemned me to a definitive legal ban from the French territory.

However, I kept living with my children, as the prison sentence was not executed. Then I separated from my husband. I was alone with my three children and I couldn’t pay the daily bills. It was very difficult for me to meet their needs so I asked social services to put my two eldest sons in a foster home. I was then only living with my youngest daughter. In 2006, I met my current partner, who has a long-term residence permit. We lived together with my daughter and our son, who was born in 2007. My two eldest sons visited us on each holiday.

Making sacrifices
In 2009, I wanted to straighten out my situation and I asked the children’s judge for advice. He recommended me to ask for the execution of the prison sentence so I could then apply for the deletion of the legal ban from my judicial record. I accepted and was imprisoned in the prison of Fleury-Mérogis (in the Paris region) in February 2009. I did 3 years out of the 5-year sentence. I was supposed to be released in January 2012, but was instead placed in a detention centre for my removal to Ghana.

In the IDC, I asked to be on house arrest. The judge answered that my children had been in foster families for a long time and that nothing proved that I would take care of them in the future. But the children’s judge had explained in a document that I always took good care of all my children: he was only waiting for my situation to improve before I could take them back home with me. That was really unfair. The judicial judge couldn’t care less about my situation.

There is no justice. I had faith in justice. I decided to go to prison; it was not the police that came to get me. I left my children. My younger son was only two years old when it happened. After all that, they put me in detention for another 45 days. I was really disappointed and upset. I still had strength, I kept praying all the time.

Detention was long but it went well. I was always calling home, my partner. I counted the days. I didn’t lodge appeals against the decisions of the judicial judge. I was fed up with the administration and the judicial system. I felt that whatever I did wouldn’t make a difference and that I was going to stay until the end of the maximum legal duration. I saw people coming and leaving, coming and leaving.

A blessing in disguise
Fortunately, the consulate didn’t identify me even though the prefecture put them under pressure to do so. It is the only thing that got me out and allowed me to see my children. Otherwise, I don’t want to imagine what would have happened. I don’t like to talk about that, it makes me feel really sad.

My four children are French or will be and in that case, legally, the administration must delete the legal ban from my judicial record. There is no way I am going to leave my six-year-old son. He has already lived a long time without his mum. My daughter lives with me. I am the only person who takes care of her. She doesn’t want to go to Ghana, she only knows France. She doesn’t speak English, only French.

I want to find a job and earn enough money to take care of my children. I want to find a house big enough so all my children can live with me. We are a family but we don’t live together. For the time being, they are in foster families. Everything is going well. They are doing well at school. Their foster families are really nice but they need their mum.

I don’t have a life at the moment but I have children.

20 years in France
Still undocumented and unreturnable for administrative reasons