Since the Taliban took full control of Afghanistan on August 15, Afghan refugees in France have been anxious to bring their families to safety. Family reunification procedures, which had been severely delayed due to the pandemic, have become even more complicated and are now a race against time.
Four Afghan refugees last week made a request to the French Council of State. They asked that all Afghan families who already had family members in France should be evacuated from Kabul to France.
"The control of evacuation operations does not fall within the remit of administrative justice," responded the authorities. In other words, the families stranded in Kabul were not prioritized to be brought to France.
In France, there are 3,500 family reunification applications from Afghan refugees awaiting a response. These cases have been pending for months, some even for years.
"On average, an Afghan has to wait three and a half years before being able to bring in his relatives," says Gérard Sadik, a specialist in refugee law at Cimade, speaking with InfoMigrants.
The procedure already seemed extremely complicated before the arrival of the Taliban on August 15. "In Kabul, the French embassy almost never issued visas. It has been years since family reunification was done through Afghanistan," continues Sadik. "That's how it is, all Afghans know it. The files were therefore processed in Islamabad, Pakistan.
'Delays and inertia'
In 2020, with the coronavirus crisis and the closure of the borders, delays became even longer and difficulties piled up. In April 2021, anti-French protests in Pakistan sparked by French President Emmanuel Macron's government's stance on freedom of expression -- and religious cartoons -- led to the embassy's closure. "The staff was repatriated to France. All of this has further seized up the family reunification machine," explains Sadik.
Moreover, the files were further outsourced. They are now largely processed by the French embassies in New Delhi, India, and Tehran, Iran. "Everything is ... computerized," says Sadik. "But at some point, the family has to go to the embassy to get the visa, and a Kabul-Delhi ticket can be expensive."
The whole bureaucratic machine, "composed of delays and inertia, is a scandal" in the opinion of Cimade. Getting a visa to bring in one's relatives is a right, not a privilege, insists Sadik.
"The delays are totally unreasonable. The situation continues and is getting worse," lamented Jessica Lescs, a lawyer at the Paris bar, who is in charge of the case of some 70 Afghan families, interviewed by Le Monde.
Between January and July 2021, 431 visas were issued to Afghan nationals for family reunification, according to figures from France's General Directorate for Foreigners (DGEF). By comparison, in 2020, 189 family reunification visas had been granted to Afghan nationals (out of a total of 2,396, all nationalities combined). "These are derisory figures," says Cimade.
'France must enforce the law'
"All we ask is that France enforces the law," the association insists. Since the Taliban came to power on August 15, Afghan refugees in France have added anguish to their impatience.
"I've been fighting for two years to get my wife and three children here," confides an Afghan refugee who has been living in Paris since October 2018. "My family is stuck there, the banks are closed, I can no longer send them money," he explains. "What will they live on? How can they go shopping? And now, women are no longer allowed to go out," he worries. "They need to be exfiltrated to France."
Solutions may be possible by "opening new consular posts," suggests Sadik. They might be necessary as new geographical obstacles have appeared. "If, with the arrival of the Taliban, the borders close, how can you go to Pakistan, India or Iran to get your visa back? We hope that France will take measures to honor its commitments, to enforce the law."
The lawyers of the four refugees who have appealed to the Council of State are asking Paris to set up a special protocol, to issue "laissez-passer" (the right to pass) permits, for example, so that family reunification can be examined from Abu Dhabi, where France had established an air bridge with Kabul.
Between August 16 and August 27, France evacuated 2,600 Afghan nationals from Kabul via its airlift -- mainly artists and activists.