French expats break Covid’s ban on returning home

French citizens living outside the European Union are now required to produce a “convincing” motive for entering their home country – a very restrictive situation which some say has made them “second-class citizens”.

As European countries climbed to close their borders in the midst of the first wave of Covid-19, France was ranked among the most proactive countries in its efforts to return citizens stranded abroad.

Almost a year later, France has tightened its borders again to stop the spread of new coronavirus variants – this time also closing many of its own citizens.

On January 31, French officials began implementing harsh new restrictions aimed at restricting international travel – and thus the spread of more contagious variants. This has effectively resulted in a difference in treatment between French citizens living in the EU and those outside the 27-member bloc.

Under the new rules, French citizens residing in France or another EU country can return home provided they agree to take PCR tests on each side of a seven-day isolation period.

However, those who do not have an EU residence permit can only enter France if they show evidence of a convincing motive, such as a near and death, a medical emergency or a legal summons.

Second grade

Such a distinction is both discriminatory and illegal, says Yan Chantrel, an elected adviser to the French National Assembly abroad, who has launched a petition calling for a withdrawal that “violates fundamental freedoms and international law”.

“These restrictions create a deep sense of injustice,” Chantrel said in an interview with FRANCE 24, deploring a “brutal and unprecedented” decision.

“Why do our French and women in Europe get home when we are not?” he asked. “Not even during wartime has France ever refused to allow its citizens to return.”

Chantrel claims that there are “as many” compelling “motives for travel as there are individuals”, ranging from the banal – a leak at a holiday home – to situations of “extreme mental distress”. The latter, he says, may include pregnant women in need of family support, fathers not yet seeing their newborn baby, parents desperately wanting to reach an isolated child or people unable to say goodbye to a dying friend.

The councilor has received hundreds of messages from French expats who are “outraged” by the new rules, and his petition has already received more than 17,000 signatures.

Supporters include Alexandre Cournol, head of an association of French foreigners in Washington, who says French citizens abroad are only asking for equal rights.

“We are not looking for any privilege, we simply want to be put on equal terms with French citizens in Europe,” Cournol told FRANCE 24. “We are happy to follow the health guidelines, but we do not accept being treated as second-class citizens. ”

Freedom, but not at any price

Some French nationals abroad have legal avenues to lift travel restrictions.

A group of French foreigners with links to the conservative Les Républicains party wrote in the Figaro newspaper last week and the “legal and constitutional consequences” of the government’s actions. Depending on the place of residence, they wrote: “French citizens are de facto no longer equal in terms of their rights.”

Another group has lodged a complaint with the Conseil d’Etat, France’s highest administrative court. In his Twitter post, their lawyer Pierre Ciric said the restrictions undermine “the absolute and impossible right of French citizens to return home”.

A decision in the case is expected at the beginning of next month.

Meanwhile, even those whose “convincing” motives for travel have been accepted by the government find it difficult to travel to and from France due to a lack of flights.

Airlines have drastically reduced their flights following the new restrictions. According to Chantrel, they are also reluctant to accept certain passengers who are on their way to France and fear that they will be forced to fly back and pay a hefty fine.

But not all foreigners are armed. In online comments on Chantrel’s presentation, some have expressed support for the restrictions and agreed with the government that they are necessary to keep coronavirus variants in check.

“We know very well that travel and family gatherings are the main spreader for Covid-19,” wrote one commenter. “So let’s be patient, careful and then maybe we can discuss freedom again. It’s really valuable, but not at any price. ”

This article was translated from the original in French.