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France

Retiree stripped of French citizenship over technicality

© © France 3 Haute Normandie

Text by Sarah LEDUC

Latest update : 2014-02-14

Sikhou Camara was naturalized a French citizen in 1966. Yet the recent discovery of a minute administrative error made 45 years ago means that he and his family may suddenly be re-classified as immigrants.

Born in Senegal in 1945, Camara obtained French citizenship in the French town of Rouen in 1966. In 1986, he received routine confirmation of his nationality. Ten years later, Camara requested French nationality for his wife under the French law which states that the spouse of a French citizen can request citizenship after at least four years of marriage.

Suddenly finicky, the judge examining Camara’s file unearthed a legal flaw from his naturalization process. Camara had been granted French nationality when he was 20 years old, though the legal age at the time was 21.

Because of this technicality, Camara was told that his wife was not eligible for citizenship. Moreover, his youngest children, who were born outside of France, would be denied the habitual French “droit de sang,” or rights to citizenship by descent.

This was disheartening news for Camara and his family, to say the least, yet he was given no reason over the next 15 years to worry about his own status.

Finally, in 2012, he decided to make a second attempt to seek citizenship for his wife. This time, he hired a lawyer.

In September, Camara received a shocking letter from his local prefecture, Seine-Maritime, stating that he “no longer held French nationality.” Even more frighteningly, the letter stated that if he failed to render his now void identity documents immediately to the prefecture, his name would be added to a list of “wanted persons.”

The letter also offered him a “titre de séjour,” a temporary residence permit.
Camara refused the offer.

“This is a legal problem, not an immigration problem”

“My father is French. Question his nationality and you are questioning his very identity,” said Sikhou Camara’s son, Bakary. “This is a legal problem and not an immigration problem.”

“It’s as if, suddenly, French citizenship can be temporary. Being forced to justify your nationality when you are 68-years-old is a humiliation.”

In an interview with FRANCE 24, Bakary highlighted that the Camara family’s ties to France are not new but part of a deep-rooted colonial legacy.

Sikhou Camara was born in Senegal when it was still a French colony. Sikhou’s father served in the French navy.

Sikhou arrived by boat in the French town of Bordeaux in the early 1960s and went immediately to Rouen, where one of his uncles already lived. He settled there, working as a welder for 40 years.

Sikhou’s story was not unusual for those born in former French colonies.

“In those days, coming to France (from the colonies) was comparable to someone from the countryside moving to Paris,” Bakary said.

Bakary refers to the questions swirling around his father’s identity as “a judicial injustice” and “a crime against the social contract.”

Bakary says his father was a loyal citizen. Sikhou voted in each election, paid his taxes and raised his 13 children with republican values. One of his daughters is now studying medicine at the University of Rouen, while another is studying engineering in the French town of Lyon. One of his sons is a policeman. Yet Sikhou’s youngest children – who were born in Senegal and thus inherited their French citizenship through their father – are also at risk of losing their French nationality.

“I have never thought of myself as an immigrant but suddenly I find myself with this status,” said Bakary.

He added: “I live in France, I am French. I’ve resolved this problem; it’s France that still hasn’t.”

Not the first time

Sikhou Camara is not the first person in Rouen to find himself in this unpleasant situation. In 2007, the Roeun tribunal questioned the nationality of a man named Ounoussou Guissé, who was also born in Senegal but gained French citizenship at birth through his French father. The tribunal once again focused on a minute detail, claiming that at the time of Senegal’s independence from France (1960), Guissé’s father’s civil residence was in France but his principal residence was in Senegal.
This examination into Guissé’s citizenship is even more shocking considering that Guissé served as a brigadier in the 1st Parachute Hussar Regiment, fighting for France in both Chad and Afghanistan.

In an open letter, Bakary Camara asked for the government to put into place ideas drafted in memorandum on immigration written in March 2010 by French Interior Minister Manuel Valls alongside Justice Minister Christiane Taubira.

The two ministers suggested a “simplification process” for renewing passports and other identity cards, that would get rid of “often superfluous processes that are perceived by those in question (those born outside of France or born to non-French parents) as a governmental questioning of their nationality.”

Bakary wants to prevent his father and other people in the same situation from having to undergo “the humiliation of having to justify their place in the national community every ten years.”

Trapped

Sikhou Camara dreamed of a peaceful retirement with the possibility of travelling frequently between his home in France, and his friends and family in Senegal, enjoying the freedom of movement available to any French citizen.

But with his passport set to expire in two months and the prefecture’s refusal to renew his documents, he will no longer be able to travel.

To put an end to what he calls “administrative persecution,” Sikhou Camara is going to court to prove his nationality, this time in front of the district court of Lille.

Unbowed, Camara told television station France 3, “if the state made a mistake, it’s up to them to fix it. I’m not the one who is going to suffer the consequences.”
The court will rule on March 8.
 

Date created : 2014-02-14

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