Friday, April 13, 2012

'Illegal' Roma teenager wins French 'best apprentice' award

Cristina Dumitru was told she would get her coveted "carte de séjour", a short-term residency permit, the day after the French Senate awarded her a prize for being the best apprentice in her professional field. No coincidence, says the teenager. 

A Romanian teenager who has lived a precarious existence in France since 2005 has made headlines in her adopted country for being recognised as the best achieving apprentice one day, and being granted the right to live here legally the next.

Until she was given a gold medal at the French Senate last Thursday, 18-year-old Critsina Dumitru, from a Roma (Gypsy) family, lived under the spectre of being expelled from the country because she didn’t have a “carte de séjour”, a short-term French residency card.

And the day after being rewarded for her hard work as dry cleaning apprentice in the western French city of Nantes, her local authority gave her notice that her carte de séjour would be hers within three months.

Dumitru, who was “delighted” with her gold medal, said there was little coincidence that her residency permit was granted immediately after the gold medal.

“Apart from getting this award there is absolutely nothing different about my situation now from when my application was turned down in February,” she told FRANCE 24.

In fact, her application has been rejected twice, both times because she could not produce a work contract. “And I couldn’t get a work contract because I was still a student,” she said.

In addition to helping her find regular work, the status also means she can apply for a driving license and a grant to study for a professional diploma. She wants to qualify as a clothing salesperson.

France’s hard line on immigrants

Dumitru’s award, and the granting of the carte de séjour, brings into focus the harder line France has taken towards immigrants in the last two years, as well as rules that have made it more difficult to live and find work in the country.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy was widely criticised in summer 2010 for launching a campaign against illegal Roma encampments in France and for “repatriating” hundreds of illegal immigrants to Romania.

And Dumitru’s family story is not uncommon among Roma immigrants. Her family travelled to France in 2005 and found themselves in Nantes on France’s Atlantic coast.

He parents found casual seasonal work on farms, but the family still “slept in the open in a park”, and then illegally in a caravan without water or electricity until they could find a small flat.

A ‘focussed young woman’

Despite the hardships, Dumitru wanted to make a success of her life, enrolling on an apprenticeship course in dry cleaning at her lycée (high school), for which she was nominated for the award.

“She is an extremely focussed young woman,” Florine Durand, the head of her school, told French newspaper Le Figaro on March 30. “She is so determined that as soon as she completed her apprenticeship, she enrolled immediately for another one in sales.”

Dumitru admitted that travelling to Paris and going to the senate, the symbol of government in a country that had thus far refused her official residency, “was a daunting experience, especially as no one knew that I didn’t have a carte de séjour.”

She took the advantage of her situation to talk to journalists and explain the precariousness of her and her family’s situation in France, an exercise that seemed to have paid off when her local authority finally gave her application for residency the go-ahead.

“Obviously I’m delighted that I’ll be getting my carte de séjour, but it is a pity that I had to win a national prize to get my papers in order,” she said, hoping that her own status will help her parents and her brother get theirs.


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