Coup disruptions thwart students due to study in France

Niger students admitted to French universities for the 2023-24 academic year have been stranded in their home country, unable to secure visas to travel owing to the recent coup d’état which saw the French consulate and embassy in the capital, Niamey, closed until further notice.

The French embassy says 1,200 Niger students are due to attend higher education courses in France for the new academic year, with 456 recently admitted for their first year of study and who require a French visa to travel.

However, since the military takeover of 26 July, which overthrew the democratic regime of president Mohamed Bazoum and led to the ransacking of the French embassy in Niamey, both the French consulate and embassy have been closed until further notice and are unable to issue the necessary travel documents.

Appeals for resolution

Faced with this blockage, students have set up a collective of Nigeriens admitted to French universities. One member, Hamza Issaka Uzefe, a student admitted to study international humanitarian law at the University of Côte d’Azur in Nice, said: “Our situation is distressing because we’re in the dark and we don’t know what to do.”

He said the collective has sent letters to the European Union delegation in Niger, the French embassy, France’s Niger consulate and Campus France (a French government agency helping overseas students) “to see if a solution can be found”. He added: “In view of this diplomatic breakdown, the collective has proposed transferring our files via certain French diplomatic channels. But, so far, we’re not sure that the situation has been resolved.”

In the same vein, Abdoulaye Chaibou Abdoulrachid, admitted to the University of Clermont Auvergne in France, is alarmed: “This situation is aggravating our journey because we have made enormous physical, moral and financial efforts to prepare [for] this project and ensure that our applications can be accepted.

“Unfortunately, we’re stuck and we don’t know if this problem will be solved, [even though] some of us have paid the registration fee. That’s why we’re asking both parties – the Conseil National pour la Sauvegarde de la Patrie [the formal name of the new military junta ruling Niger] and the French authorities – to find common ground to resolve our situation.”

The Council of Nigeriens in France (Conseil des Nigériens de France) has also lent its support to those students admitted to French universities. A 17 August communiqué expressed its concern: “We appeal to all the competent authorities in Niger and France to find a suitable solution for these students who are waiting. We are also asking the various French universities to grant these students a waiver for late arrival in view of the delicate circumstances.”

Survival of the nation

However, the Union des Scolaires Nigériens, through its media secretary Effred Mouloul Al’hassane, has asked the Niger students to be patient and realistic given that the Niger regime has broken its diplomatic relations with France.

“Today, the debate is more focused on the survival of our own nation and the readjustment of its diplomatic relations than any other issue. It is the duty of our structure to bring these admitted comrades to understand the need to wait for a happy outcome to this situation, while making the case to the highest authorities of our country for alternative measures, because there is a diplomatic rupture between Niger and France. I believe that our comrades must wait,” he said.

Meanwhile, the diplomatic situation is deteriorating. On Saturday 2 September, tens of thousands of demonstrators protested outside a French military base in Niamey, demanding that its troops leave the country, which was a French colony until 1960, and a country in which France has until now maintained significant influence.

The French ambassador, Sylvain Itté, has refused to leave Niger, despite being ordered out by the military government.