French border police have freed Watlove Carrie, a 17-year-old Haitian detained in a Paris airport since Monday. She was arrested after trying to enter the country with a borrowed passport, to flee the sexual assault she was subjected to in Haiti.
A young Haitian girl detained for three days in the administrative holding area of Paris’ Orly airport for attempting to enter the country with a passport that wasn’t hers was released on Thursday, and allowed to join her mother and father in Paris.
“I’m very happy, and very relieved,” Jean-Wimzon Carrie, the girl’s father, told FRANCE 24 over the phone. “She’s exhausted but otherwise OK. The three days she spent in the holding area were very difficult. She couldn’t sleep, and she was terrified at the idea of being deported,” he added, his voice choked by emotion.
Watlove Carrie, 17, was left homeless and virtually alone after the earthquake on Jan. 12 killed her grandmother and destroyed their home, leaving her and her brother to fend for themselves in the streets. Her parents, politically persecuted during ex-president Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s rule, had fled Haiti for France in 1999.
For weeks, Watlove and her brother Nelson lived under single sheet in a street in the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince. When the rainy season began they were left soaked and shivering nearly every night. But worse than that were the repeated sexual assaults the young girl was subjected to by gangs of men. Her parents decided to get her out of Haiti “at any cost”, and when obtaining a legal French visa proved impossible, Watlove decided to “borrow” a cousin’s passport.
Watlove was arrested by border police when she arrived at Orly airport on Monday morning. Threatened with deportation, she was able to file a request for asylum on Tuesday, which granted her the right to stay in France until the immigration ministry examined her case. She was supposed to meet with a French immigration judge on Thursday morning, but was set free at the last minute, before the hearing took place.
“At 9pm last night I got a telephone call from the French border police informing me that they had decided to release my client and that the hearing was no longer necessary,” Watlove’s lawyer Sylvain Sagliari told FRANCE 24, visibly surprised by the decision.
After initially claiming that the birth certificate put forward by Watlove’s parents was insufficient to prove the girl’s identity, immigration finally agreed to free Watlove and hand her over to her parents without further documentation. It is unclear what brought about this change of heart, especially as police had first reacted by arresting Watlove’s mother Betty, who does not yet have legal French resident papers, when she came to the airport to plead her daughter’s cause.
“It’s regrettable that it took three full days for authorities to free Watlove,” Sagliari told FRANCE 24. "The holding area is a notoriously difficult experience for refugees, especially for a very young and vulnerable girl. Authorities should have let her out immediately, if necessary placing her in a foyer for underage refugees until her relationship with her parents could be proven,” he added.
For the time being, Watlove is allowed to live with her parents in their apartment. She is protected by a decree issued by French Immigration Minister Eric Besson a day after the earthquake, ordering the "immediate suspension of all deportation proceedings… of undocumented Haitian nationals in the national territory”.
Because Watlove's father has legal working papers and both her parents hold stable jobs in France, the young girl hopes she will be granted resident status. So far, however, her situation in France remains precarious. Her brother Nelson, meanwhile, will remain in Haiti while his parents struggle to obtain a French visa for him.