Lydia Veyrat, a Beninese healthcare assistant employed in a home for the elderly, received an order to leave French territory. The local prefect argues that she is not sufficiently integrated into society. Her lawyer has filed a formal appeal with the interior ministry, denouncing the "ludicrous situation".
At a time when French medical facilities are severely understaffed to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, a Beninese healthcare assistant, employed in an Ehpad (a housing establishment for dependent elderly people) in Isère, has been threatened with expulsion. On November 23, the Grenoble Administrative Court rejected the appeal filed by her lawyer, Didier Besson.
Veyrat, 37 years old, was ordered to leave French territory after having started the process to renew her residence permit at the prefecture of Savoie, where she lives.
The prefecture says that the care assistant should have submitted her application two months before her residence permit expired. But that was not possible. "It was a nightmare to submit my application to renew my residence permit. My appointment was cancelled because of the health crisis," Veyrat told InfoMigrants.
Mobilized against Covid
Veyrat's entourage and colleagues were even more shocked when they heard that the prefect felt that the young woman was "not well integrated" into French society. "They also argued that since she had not been in France for long and she had a 19-year-old son in Benin, denying her residence would not have any implication on her family life," her lawyer told InfoMigrants.
In Benin, Veyrat had worked as a nurse and had been married to a French national for twenty years. In 2019, she and her husband -- then seriously ill -- decided to move to France. But her husband died in March 2019 before the couple left Benin.
"Mrs. Veyrat decided to come because she had her husband's estate to settle. She found herself in France with a one-year residence permit. The estate proceedings took some time and she started working in the summer of 2019," Besson explained.
Veyrat was quickly hired as a healthcare assistant at the Ehpad of Pontcharra, in Isère. She worked there on several fixed-term contracts before signing a permanent contract last October for a full-time job. She therefore experienced the first wave of Covid in the establishment and, as such, she received the "Covid bonus" from the government.
'They are telling me to go home as if I were a criminal'
Veyrat has been in shock over the prefect's decision. "I gave up everything in Benin for my husband. Today, they are telling me to go home as if I were a criminal," she confided.
"When I came to France, I validated my long-stay visa. When I started working, I was summoned to the Ofii (French Immigration and Integration Office) in Grenoble to sign an integration contract. They then congratulated me because, three months after my arrival in France, I had found a job, bought a car and had already found out how I could make use of my nursing diploma in France," she said proudly.
"I had even enrolled in a driving school because my Beninese license is only valid for one year. All of this gave me self-confidence and eased some of the pain of my husband's death. I said to myself, 'My husband's country is not rejecting me'."
'More than integrated, indispensable'
The decision of the prefecture caused consternation among her colleagues as well. "We could count on her, she was indispensable to our services," said one of them in a report by radio group M6. "Frankly, we miss her when she's not there," added another.
That is what Besson tried to point out. To defend his client, the lawyer filed an appeal before the Administrative Court of Grenoble but it was rejected. He is preparing to appeal the court's decision, and a formal appeal has also been filed with the interior ministry.
"Lydia Veyrat is more than integrated, she is indispensable," Besson stressed. "Currently in the Ephads, the staff is tested every week to see if they are positive for COVID-19 and, in reality, even if they are positive, they work anyway due to the lack of personnel. One fewer caregiver on a daily basis means people who are washed less often, with whom we're going to spend less time feeding, etc.," he added.
According to Besson, the prefecture's decision could be linked to the wave of expulsion orders generally issued at the end of the year because "the prefecture has quotas to fill".
"During this period, there is also an acceleration of the processing of files at the prefecture. In the first six months of the year, people wait many months before hearing about their file. At the end of the year, the files are processed in haste."
The prefecture of Savoie did not respond to InfoMigrant’s requests for comment.
Even if Veyrat's expulsion order is maintained, the caregiver will not be able to leave France since the borders are closed due to the coronavirus. Besson called it a "ludicrous situation". "If we lose, she will find herself without a residence permit, without being able to leave, instead of being able to be with the residents of Ehpad," he said.