Koumba, from Guinea, arrived in France at the end of 2017 along with her two daughters, then aged two and four. She hoped to spare them the traumatic experience of female circumcision and wanted to offer them a good education. Two and a half years later, she says she has lost all hope for her future in France.
"My name is Koumba *, I am 33 years old and I am tired. I’m in a tunnel that I can’t see the end of.
I am the mother of two little girls, six and four years old. In our home country Guinea, little girls like them are circumcised. I was circumcised myself when I was nine, and I have a terrible memory of it. In addition to having no sexual pleasure at all, I feel the consequences of this partial removal [of my clitoris] everyday: I’m traumatised. My husband and I didn’t want our daughters to have to go through the same thing, but in Guinea, that's the way it is, and you don’t question this tradition. [According to UNICEF, Guinea is the country in which female genital mutilation is the most common in West Africa, even though it was banned in the year 2000, eds. note.]
I talked to my family about my opposition to the practice, but they told me that a woman can’t stay in our community without being circumcised. They said it wasn’t normal for me to say things like that. Today, I don't really have any contact with them anymore.
'I don't know what to expect anymore'
At the end of 2017, I boarded a plane for France thanks to a fake passport. I bought three from a smuggler: one for me, and two for my daughters, it all cost around €10,000. We didn’t have enough money to pay for a fourth passport for my husband.
I arrived in Lille, and immediately filed for asylum for the three of us. I told them everything: the false passports, my reasons, etc. We have since been accommodated by Ofii (the French Office for Immigration and Integration) in a home for immigrants in Bordeaux. We live in two rooms that measure 5 square meters each, and we share a kitchen with five other families, which adds up to a total of 14 people. In June, 2018, my daughters were granted refugee protection by Ofpra (the French Office for the Protection of Refugees and stateless persons). The same month, I had my application for asylum rejected.
Since then, things have gotten worse and worse. I immediately appealed the decision and I also filed a request for regularisation as a refugee parent. [According to French law, a parent to a refugee shall automatically be granted a 10-year residence permit if the refugee is a minor and not married, eds. note]. I lost my appeal in April, 2019. As for my application for regularization, I am still waiting, it will soon be two years.
This situation is tormenting: Every time I have an appointment with the prefecture of Gironde, there’s a new twist. Even though I’ve provided them with my birth certificate, a copy of the passport I lost, as well a certificate from the Embassy of Guinea regarding the non-issuance of my passport. They tell me that my documents are no good, and that I don’t have a passport. [According to a lawyer contacted by InfoMigrants and who is specialized in migrants’ rights, French authorities cannot refuse the issuance of a residence permit due to the applicant's passport missing. It is, however, very common for French authorities to use such methods to prolong these type of processes, eds. note]. I don't know what to expect anymore. People keep on telling me that my request shouldn’t be taking so long.
No money and no health insurance
Since May, 2019 [the end date of Koumba’s asylum request process, eds. note], I no longer receive asylum seeker allowance, and I have no other resources. To get by, I rely on the €90 checks that the local authorities hand out five times a year, as well as the Red Cross which sometimes offers vouchers worth €40 or €50, depending on their means. I also get food from the Restos du Coeur foodbank and other associations.
A week before the start of the lockdown, I had started working as an accounting assistant via a temp agency, but with the lockdown, everything was canceled. I can work thanks to my certificate proving my application for a residence permit. But the document doesn’t entitle me to access CAF (the Family Allowance Fund), which requires identity documents.
And a few months ago, my CMU (Universal Health Coverage) expired. I applied for AME (State Medical Aid) in January, but have had no response yet. So I have no health coverage for neither myself nor my daughters. During this pandemic, this really worries me. This is why I don’t want them to go back to school.
In June, the certificate I have for my residence permit application will expire. What will happen to me afterwards? I don’t know. I dream of having a little bit of money to be able to set up a business, in decorating or in recycling second-hand clothes. I would also like for my husband to be able to join us one day."
* The first name has been changed to protect the person’s identity.