Michel, 31, from Burundi living in France

“Because of the impossible situation I’m in, my life has been put on hold.”

Michel left his country at the age of 15, after his parents were murdered in front of his eyes. Michel’s journey to France lasted three years, during which he crossed several countries, including Gabon, Ivory Coast and Spain. Since 2002, Michel has been detained four times, spending a total of three months in detention.  The last time he was released by the authorities after being diagnosed with hepatitis, which cannot be treated in Burundi. As Michel does not have any identity documents, however, France would not be able to send him back anyway.

The brutal realities of Burundi
I left my county in 1997 after my parents were killed right in front of me. I was fifteen. I went to the Ivory Coast where I stayed for a year, and then I went to Gabon where I stayed for a year and a half. In Gabon, I worked and met people who really helped me. They provided me with a fake passport, which I used to go to Europe.

I did not try to legalise my situation in France for years. I was arrested and sent to an immigration detention centre (IDC) in 2002, but only for a few days. I felt pretty safe because the local policemen knew my situation and they did not bother me. The times I was arrested were when I was in other areas.

I tried to work whenever I could, mostly on market places.

A catch-22 situation
It was only in 2011, after I was released from a short jail sentence, that I decided I should get legal authorisation to stay in France. I went to the Burundi consulate in Paris to get a civil status certificate. I needed this document to apply for a residence permit. However, they told me that I had to get this document in Burundi. As I had no one left there, I was stuck.

I cannot go back to Burundi because my consulate refuses to acknowledge me as one of their citizens. Therefore, the French authorities cannot get a free-pass to send me back to my country even though I have been in IDCs several times. Therefore I cannot get a legal status certificate and apply for a residence permit in France either.

Life in detention
I have been detained four times in France. I found the three IDCs I have been detained in pretty different from one another. The IDCs in Palaiseau and Plaisir are rather small so they were less nerve-racking. The IDC in Toulouse is very big and looks a lot like a jail. It is located at the end of the airport runway, so we could hear planes taking-off all day long: in your room, when you eat, when you sleep. It is extremely stressful because you never know if you will be on the next flight.

Daily life in an IDC is very boring. There is not much to do. I used to sleep a lot. I had a very hard time sleeping at night as I was very nervous.

In detention, I felt like I was completely stuck. I feel that just not having legal documents does not justify being deprived of liberty for so long. I feel like my life is stuck because I cannot sort out my situation: I cannot get a residence permit in France but I cannot be sent back to Burundi. It seems like it will never end.

The right to a normal life
The last time in detention I was released by the prefecture because I was diagnosed with hepatitis and it cannot be cured in Burundi. The prefecture has to examine my right to stay in France for health reasons and I’m waiting for an answer.

I want to stay in France because my life is here now. I have been in this country for 13 years. I have no one left in Burundi: I left when I was 15, after my parents were murdered. The idea of being sent back reminds me of how violent and dangerous the situation was back there and of my parents’ death. I risked my life to leave Burundi and I do not want to go back.

I have been detained for a long time, even though the prefecture knows they cannot send me back to my country. It seems unfair and excessive.

I feel very frustrated because I cannot have a normal life: find a wife, have a job, kids, etc. I want my share of the cake!

I am very shocked by the idea of locking people up just because they do not have any documents. They did not do anything wrong and they are not dangerous. Some people lose everything when they are arrested: their job and their family.

Thirtheen years in France
He has no passport to go back to Burundi. And he has no identity documents to be regularised in France.
Still undocumented and unreturnable for administrative reasons