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In the (bureaucratic) hell of a French family confined to Shanghai

VSIt was to be one of the happiest days of their lives. On March 13, Paul*, a French leader based in Shanghai, and his wife gave birth to their second child, Nathan, in the city’s United Family hospital. But, quickly, the beautiful story turned into a terrifying journey into absurdity, mixing the rigidity of the Chinese zero Covid strategy with French bureaucratic hell.

It all started when he entered the hospital. “The establishment was completely sealed off: it was forbidden to leave it, if only to take change from us or to take a shower”, relates the 40-year-old father, who has been living in the country for twelve years. He has to stay under the pale neon lights with his wife, their first child, Léa, 5, and the baby for four days and nights.

A very hard confinement

On March 16, the family can finally return to their home. But, from March 23, the Chinese economic capital is placed under lockdown. Severe confinement, very different from that which France has known. No question of leaving his building, all the stores are closed without exception and the delivery services too. The sentence is immediate. Those who haven’t filled their fridge in time are stuck waiting for baskets provided by the authorities – water, some vegetables, some meat and toilet paper.

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The family was foresighted, fortunately. Puxi Side’s apartment is full of food. Paul’s wife being Chinese, she can participate in the group purchases set up by a few good souls in the neighborhood, which the families of Franco-French expatriates still not very comfortable in Mao’s language cannot do. The couple’s priority is not, like some neighbors of their residence of 3,000 inhabitants, to shout at the windows for water to be brought to them, but to have Nathan recognized by France.

The consulate does not want to register their child

And there it gets stuck. The French consulate in Shanghai demands that Paul go in person with his son to its premises. However, this is impossible since he is under house arrest, like the 25 million Shanghainese (2.7 times the French population!). “I called them, he gets annoyed. They told me “come to the consulate and we will register it”. Except that the door to my house is blocked, no one can leave the building, or even the neighborhood, there are fences everywhere. But they didn’t want to know. They told me it was the law and hung up. »

Paul therefore proposes to send by email or mail the required documents. “Birth certificate, residence certificate, photo, my passport, that of my wife, I have everything, he says. But they didn’t want to know. They told me to come in person again. » Welcome to Ubu. As a result, days pass and little Nathan still has no legal existence. To make matters worse, the family’s interlocutors at the French Embassy in Beijing and at the Quai d’Orsay informed him that a mysterious decree of 1971 required parents to declare their offspring within thirty days of birth. Otherwise, the procedure becomes more complex.

Procedures worthy of Kafka

However, “as we have been in strict confinement for almost fifty days now, protests the father of the family, we are asked for other administrative steps that are impossible to validate. I have to find a Chinese notary who will do the French translation of the local birth certificate – strangely, the consulate tells me that they are not allowed to do this. I then have to go to the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs to authenticate the document, then finally go to the French consulate, which will only then launch the production of the passport”.

Obviously, all these approaches, given the context, are impractical. The Kafkaesque character of the situation, however, hardly seems to move the officials of the Quai d’Orsay. “In Shanghai, we are three families in this case, with children waiting for papers, enrages Paul. But the person in charge of legal affairs and civil status at the consulate told me that he risked a reprimand if he came to our aid. And the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, alerted, does not want to know anything. He lets us down. This is madness. » Contacted by Pointthe Quai d’Orsay did not respond.

My son Nathan is stateless!

Paul does not intend to leave China, as hundreds of expatriates among the 7,500 French in Shanghai have already done. But he wants to return to France this summer to embrace his loved ones whom he has not seen for many months and to put his family “in the shelter”. Only, without a passport, her son cannot fly. “Nathan is a stateless person,” he sums up, bitterly. And without a solution in the short or medium term. “A consulate official dared to suggest that I apply for a Chinese passport, but Nathan is French! »

To hear this dark-eyed father whom we reached via the Zoom application, the French public authorities are absent subscribers. “The embassy does nothing. They refuse to provide us with Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, which are more effective than Chinese vaccines, while they have ordered doses from Pfizer for all embassy and consulate staff and their families, as well as for teachers. of the French school and their relatives. And they refused to set up charter flights for those who want to return urgently. »

Mothers embarked by the police

While some expatriates are coping fairly well with Shanghai’s confinement, the situation of families with young children is worrying. “One of my Italian friends, Antonio, has just become a father too. His wife tested positive. The Chinese policemen came to arrest her while she was breastfeeding. They didn’t want to argue. They took her to a camp and my friend ended up alone with the infant when he had no powdered milk at home. »

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For older children, it’s easier. As during the confinements in France, the courses continue 100% online. But they have morale in the socks. “We live under the sword of Damocles of being arrested, believes Paul. If my next door neighbor is positive, they take my whole family on board. Every 48 hours, an official gives us a PCR test. I did 32. My 5 year old daughter is anxious. She asks herself a lot of questions: she would like to go play outside. Here, there is no one-hour exit permit as there was in Paris. »

L’Oréal’s appeal to Jean-Michel Blanquer

Worse, the rigor of the Chinese zero Covid strategy prohibits the students concerned from traveling to take exams. However, the French National Education considers a priori students who do not travel to an exam as absent. According to our information, L’Oréal had to contact the Minister of Education Jean-Michel Blanquer directly to unblock the situation of three of its expatriates, one of whose children had to pass the baccalaureate. Following this intervention, the 67 students enrolled in the final year in Shanghai were exempted from final tests and allowed to take the exam in full continuous assessment.

* All names have been changed.

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