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After the quake: One man’s legal nightmare

Text by Gaëlle LE ROUX

Latest update : 2010-02-15

Raguel Ranfort arrived in France on 10 February, having fled attempts on his life and the misery of a quake-ravaged Port-au-Prince. His relief was shortlived. He was arrested on arrival and could soon be sent back.

Six shivering bodies have braved the icy, morning winds outside the Bobigny courthouse near Paris. When the doors opened, the six watched as their friend Raguel Ranfort stood before the judge. Ranfort, a 35 Haitian man, was arrested at Charles de Gaulle Airport on February 10 with a fake passport.

Ranfort’s story is another sad fallout from the earthquake that ravaged his country on January 12. The quake brought him face-to-face with his recnt past. In 2002, Ranfort’s nephew was kidnapped and never seen again. Ranfort pursued the perpetrators, and after months of legal challenges, succeeded in getting five men charged, including a policeman and a judge. The judge was later acquitted, but the four others were given lengthy prison sentences.

When the cataclysmic earthquake laid to waste much of Port-au-Prince on January 12, it buried Ranfort’s parents under their house but also destroyed the city jail, allowing the the four men implicated in his nephew’s kidnapping to escape.

On the morning of February 2, the escapees, armed with guns, opened fire on Ranfort’s home, critically injuring his sister. Ranfort was unharmed and managed to flee across the border into the Dominican Republic. There, he bought a fake passport and a ticket to Paris, where he landed on the morning of February 10. Ranfort was immediately detained by airport security. 

The French authorities tried to send him back to the Dominican Republic the day after his arrival, but Ranfort refused to board the plane.

"Even in the Dominican Republic he’s not safe,” insists his cousin, Marckenson. 

Meanwhile, Ranfort’s request for asylum has been denied.

"The request is obviously unfounded", the Immigration Department said.

The judge’s opinion was as unsympathetic: “Given the many uncertainties about the nationality of Raguel Ranfort, he will continue in the holding areas.”


The ‘hypocrisy’ of French authorities

In response to the judge, Ranfort’s lawyer, Sylvain Saligari, protested.

“Behind you are seven people who can attest to the nationality of my client. Given the circumstances, obtaining documentation from the Haitian government will take months, perhaps years!”

But the lawyer’s pleas fell on deaf ears. Ranfort is to spend another week in the holding area, if he’s not deported before then.

Sylvain Saligari denounces what he considers a two-faced system.

“[Immigration Minister Luc] Besson's deportation decree is a great hypocrisy,” says the lawyer, “after the earthquake he immediately suspended all deportation orders for Haitian nationals.”

The lawyer believes that the system is disingenuous: on the one hand, deportations are cancelled but then they cannot happen anyway as Port-au-Prince’s airport is inaccessible. On the other, Haitians finding themselves in situations similar to Ranfort have little legal recourse.

Ranfort is led out of court handcuffed, but the case is not closed. Sylvain Saligari has appealed the judge’s decision. On Monday, a Paris court has to review the initial refusal of Ranfort’s asylum request. 

Saligari is not optimistic, “It won’t be easy," he says.


Date created : 2010-02-15