Would misery be (really) less painful in the sun? After a year of pandemic, this is the observation that seem to make hundreds of French people, gone into exile far from the confinements and curfews in force on the national territory. Helped by widespread teleworking and plane tickets whose price is unbeatable, many have found refuge in hotter countries, less affected by the coronavirus, or simply more accommodating on the restriction measures. “Here, I forget the Covid”, confides Lila * from her new apartment in Doha, Qatar. A thermometer displaying 30 degrees in the middle of February, bars and restaurants open, the wearing of a non-compulsory mask at the office … “I am reliving”, breathes the young woman, who has chosen to leave Paris for the next six months .
A lawyer specializing in international arbitration, Lila is far from being on vacation. Graduating at the start of the year, the Parisienne decided to accept an additional six-month internship in Qatar, rather than launching into a “more than stuffy” world of work, and confronting herself with inevitable unemployment in the capital. . “One more experience, even if the job is consequent”, relativizes the lawyer, who organized “his escape” in just one month. Apartment sublet via social networks, resident visa obtained in a few days, plane tickets reserved in December: “You just need a job on the spot. Then you travel as you want”, she sums up , ensuring not to regret his choice for a single second.
“Frankly, nothing held me back in Paris. Neither the underground parties on weekends, nor the fines of 135 euros, nor the TV job from 6 pm.”
“As long as there is wifi, we are free”
Charlotte and her partner have even taken a more radical decision. Expatriates in London for three years, this couple in their thirties chose to leave everything, without taking a return ticket. Both computer engineers, they recall the long days of telecommuting during confinement, in a tiny apartment paid 2000 euros per month, under the grayness and in the heart of a city closed on all sides. While their business has not reopened since last March, the couple decides, in July, to gamble for everything. They then ask their respective employers for a new employment contract, allowing them to work remotely from anywhere in the world. And while Charlotte’s company was, before the pandemic, more than cautious on the subject, its managers accept this new organization without any problem. “If we respect the schedules, our appointments and our missions, it’s ok”.
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A more than precious sesame for the expatriate couple who, with their London salary, benefit at the best price from deserted cities and almost empty planes. Venice without tourists, Lisbon in the sun, the beaches of southern Portugal, the reopened restaurants of Barcelona … Then the heat of Guadeloupe. “We worked in dream destinations. As long as there is wifi, we are free,” Charlotte slips from the Caribbean. Only downside: the alarm clock now rings at 4:30 am, to tune in to the meetings in London. “But in return, we are free at 2 pm”, launches the young engineer, ready to take a sports course on the beach and a surf session in the afternoon.
“We save 1000 euros in rent per month, which we put into activities that we would never have been able to do in London. That’s all good”
“The anguish of France”
An idyllic way of life, which Hugo also enjoys, thousands of kilometers away. Traveling since November 2018 in Australia, the young man preferred to postpone his return to France, initially planned for last August. “Here, everything is fine”, he explains from Brisbane, testifying to a life which “seems perfectly normal”, in a region where no one wears a mask and where no case of Covid has been detected for weeks. “So why go back? Even my family advises me to stay.”
But despite the heat, the groups of friends met along the water and a good-natured atmosphere, Hugo is not fooled. This much-desired freedom also brings its share of disappointments. To stay on Australian territory for another year, the young man was forced, last April, to work for three months on a strawberry farm, under a blazing sun. And if he wishes to extend his visa for a third year – in particular to avoid an early return to France – this time he will have to sacrifice six months of his trip to a farm. “I don’t want to, but it’s better than being unemployed in France, without being able to go out, adapting to health requirements,” Hugo puts into perspective.
Sometimes the heart is not there. In recent months, the young man admits to receiving more and more negative messages from his friends who remained in Paris, “almost all depressed”.
“The anguish of France is so strong that I can feel it from here”
His comeback plans are, for the moment, on stand-by. Because since January 30, the government has specified that any entry into France and any exit from the territory to or from a country outside the European Union was prohibited, except for compelling reasons. And this drastic ban applies regardless of nationality – French people living abroad, traveling or returning to the country are also concerned. Hugo admits: this new measure “gave him a blow”.
“We can’t go home anymore”
Faced with this new situation, the sun is no longer enough to calm the anxieties of some expatriates. “We are subject to restrictions, like everywhere, but we can no longer return home,” says Laurence from the North coast of Canada, where she has been an expatriate for two years. Without a compelling reason, the forty-something considers herself “stuck” in her adopted country, without the possibility of visiting her mother or her brothers, who remained in France. After losing her father at the start of the year, this journalist would have liked to spend more time with her family.
“What is imposed on us is horrible for morale, even unbearable. I am literally locked out of my country”
Faced with the situation, Laurence now plans to move, to leave Canada permanently and join France. “It’s draconian, but I have no other choice. I leave with a feeling of incomplete”, she blurted, annoyed.
Like her, French people living in the United States, Lebanon, or Japan were outraged by this government decision. Some have even asked the Council of State to suspend or partially cancel the decree of January 30, which according to them violates the fundamental right of French nationals to return to the national territory. A complaint rejected by the institution in mid-February, the urgency of the requests not being characterized. “The applicants could not prove that they had planned a trip to France soon,” analyzes Malika Lahnait, lawyer at the Paris bar, specialist in tourism and air transport.
The Council of State nevertheless recalled that the right to enter the territory constitutes, for a French national, a fundamental freedom. “Therefore, it could be that the body censures the contested decree if it is again seized by the plaintiffs who, this time, will take the precaution of proving to the judges that they indeed have a plan to travel to France. in the short term “, summarizes the lawyer. “I do not understand that we can come to this,” comments Laurence. “Frankly, forty would have been enough.”
* Some first names have been changed at the request of the people questioned.
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