A primary school in the 18th arrondisement in Paris | Photo: Wikimedia Commons
A primary school in the 18th arrondisement in Paris | Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Eight months after arriving in France, 10-year-old Fatimate from Côte d'Ivoire and her family were about to be deported back to Italy. Thanks to a protest by the girl's school, the deportation has been postponed. But it has not been cancelled.

Up until recently, Fatimate did not talk much to her fellow students about her unusual past. But then everything changed.

On February 8, the school that she attends -- the Fernand-Labori school in the 18th arrondissement (disctrict) of Paris -- rallied together to fight for her and her parents to prevent them from being deported to Italy, which was the first European country they entered. According to the Dublin regulation, they have to return there to undergo their asylum process. Since then, Fatimate has been attracting a lot more attention.

"She has become a bit of a focus of attention among her friends," says Renaud Heinich, her teacher, speaking with InfoMigrants. "Now she talks to us about her story. But in class nothing has changed, she is a pupil like any other."

The family, originally from Cote d'Ivoire, was due to be deported on February 11. Following the protest by the teaching staff, parents, activists and elected representatives, the deportation did not take place on the scheduled date and the Paris prefect agreed to "reopen this file". But the deportation has not been fully cancelled. The fate of the family remains unclear.

"It's very good news that the local authority has responded to our demand, but, at the same time, an administrative court has still validated the deportation order the family was contesting," says Heinich. "I do hope nothing will happen during these two weeks of school holidays."

'In Italy, she was bitten by a dog and nobody wanted to treat her'

The little girl's teacher learned of his pupil's precarious situation at the end of school one day as they were leaving the classroom. "Fatimate told me that her parents had received a letter from the police telling them they had to return to Italy," he says. This was a possibility that he says "terrified" the little girl.

Fatimate does not have good memories from her time in Italy, where she and her mother lived for several months after they crossed the Mediterranean Sea from Libya in March 2020.

Also read: France: How apprentice baker Laye Traoré became a symbol for the struggle of young migrants

"It went very badly, especially because she didn't have any access to healthcare," says Heinich. In Italy, Fatimate was attacked by a dog. No one wanted to treat her after the accident. "Other migrants had to take care of her," says the teacher.

Fatimate also saw her mother falling ill when she was staying at a shelter. It was impossible for this woman to be cared for in hospitals "as they did not want to treat her." Here again, the migrant community was their only help. "They advised Fatimate's mother to say that she had the coronavirus, so that she could be taken care of," says the teacher, who is the spokesperson for the family who prefers to remain silent.

The strategy worked. But Fatimate had learnt the lesson: she and her family were not welcome in Italy.

'She didn't give up'

Fatimate, who travelled alone with her mother from Côte d'Ivoire to France, was reunited with her father, Ibrahim Sangaré, after years of separation, in the summer of 2020. In France, where they applied together for asylum on October 15, they live in a hotel in Sarcelles, near Paris.

"Fatimate told us that she would rather stay here alone than go to Italy. She feels comfortable here, we speak French, not Italian," her father, a dressmaker by trade who had been doing odd jobs in France for a while before becoming unemployed, told AFP. He fears being sent back to Côte d'Ivoire, a country he claims he fled so that his daughter could escape female genital mutilation.

His child gives him "hope". "It takes more than an hour to get to school, but she is always eager to go. She wakes up at 6:00 a.m. to tell us to bring her to school," he said.

The teacher says Fatimate is thoroughly applying herself to her new life. "She arrived with a real educational gap, she didn't know the French school system at all," he says. In addition, she had been out of school for more than a year during her flight from Côte d'Ivoire.

"At first, she was very lost, especially in mathematics. She didn't write down any numbers, she made drawings and diagrams instead. But she didn't give up. She takes school very seriously."

In order to plead this family's case, the educational community sent a letter to the Paris Academy at the beginning of February, in which they emphasized Fatimate's "real qualities of integration" as well as her "investment in both learning as well as integrating herself into school life".

"A deportation would break her new educational path and compromise Fatimate's future", they wrote. "It would also be a tragedy and a shock for the whole school."


More articles