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The Ugliness of Counterterrorism at France’s Borders

Patrouille de policiers - CC BY-SA 2.0

Police on patrol in Paris. Photo: Rama. CC 2.0.

Ever since the Paris attacks last November and the state of emergency that followed, France’s borders have been heavily secured, risking abuse by police who have been given carte blanche to protect the nation.

In late 2015, Dieretou Diallo, a Guinean student and blogger living in Nice, France, underwent a humiliating ordeal when she traveled from Paris to Dakar to participate in the launch of Africtivistes, a pan-African pro-democracy league. She told her story on her blog, “From You to Me”:

Embarquement pour Dakar, catastrophe. Je tombe sur un douanier plein d’aigreur et raciste. Je ne pense pas ressembler à quelque extrémiste dans mon jean, mon débardeur et mes escarpins. Pourtant je fais l’objet d’une fouille mesquine, désagréable, et plus loin d’abus de pouvoir avec cette phrase lancée avec dédain face à mon impatience : “Je prends autant de temps que je veux, je peux décider que l’on descende vos bagages de la soute pour les fouiller sans explications, je le fais si j’en ai envie et vous raterez votre avion puis c’est tout”. Il me balance les yeux méchants : “Vous parlez français ou pas ?” Ce à quoi je rétorque du tac au tac “: Je ne sais pas, essayez pour voir.”

Dieretou Diallo, blogueuse Guinéenne. Avec sa permission

La couleur de notre entretien est donnée. Questions poussées: objet de mon voyage, durée de mon voyage, raison de ma présence en France, date d’arrivée en France et j’en passe. Mon bagage de cabine est minutieusement retourné, mon passeport est ausculté sous toutes ses facettes, mes chaussures sont renversées, histoire de voir si quelque chose y est caché, ma trousse de maquillage est passée au peigne fin.

Exaspérée, j’avance cinglante : “Vous voulez pas que je me foute à poil non plus ? Est-ce que j’ai l’air d’une terroriste?” . Je ne me laisse pas faire et cela le met de mauvaise humeur car annihilant la piteuse autorité qu’il veut imposer, il s’acharne, je m’énerve : “J’ai hâte de finir mes études et de me barrer d’ici”. Il répond : “Oui c’est ça, partez tous !”. Sourire ironique, je lui réponds que je resterai, rien que pour le plaisir de faire chier des gens comme lui. Je bous de colère, d’impuissance.  Plus de quarante cinq minutes d’élucubrations, de va-et-vient au bout desquelles je suis au bord des larmes, je n’ai pas d’énergie pour lutter en ce moment. Je trouve tout de même l’ultime force de lancer  : « Si l’avion part, et que vous ne trouvez rien dans mes bagages en soute par la suite, je ne répondrai plus de moi. Je ferai un scandale, je m’en fiche d’aller au commissariat. Je viens de perdre mon père et la dernière chose dont j’ai besoin, c’est qu’on me traite comme une moins que rien.”

The departure for Dakar was a catastrophe. I came across a bitter, racist customs official. I don’t think I look like an extremist in my jeans, tank top, and heels, yet I was subjected to a mean-spirited pat-down and, what’s more, an abuse of power, as my impatience was met with the contemptuous reply of, “I’ll take as much time as I want. I can have your bags taken down and searched without cause. I’ll do it if I feel like it and then you’ll miss your plane, that’s all.” He jabbed me, a spiteful look in his eyes, and asked, “You speak French, or no?” To which I replied, tit for tat, “I don’t know, try me!”

Dieretou Diallo, Guinean blogger. Used with her permission.

That gives you the tone of our encounter. I was questioned about the purpose of my trip, the length of my trip, the reason for my residence in France, and the date of my arrival in France, to name a few. My carry-on was carefully scrutinized, my passport examined from every angle, my shoes turned upside down (supposedly to see if anything was hidden in them), and my makeup bag was gone over with a fine-tooth comb.

Exasperated, I got testy. “You want me to strip down? Do I look like a terrorist?” But I didn’t lose my temper, and that irritated him by destroying the pitiful authority he was clinging to. I got annoyed and said, “I can’t wait to finish my studies and get out of here.” He responded, “Yes, do—get out!” Smiling dryly, I replied that I would stay, just to piss off people like him. I was burning with anger and powerlessness. After more than 45 minutes of idiotic back-and-forth that left me on the verge of tears, I had no more energy to fight. All the same, I found the strength to say, “If my plane leaves and you’ve found nothing in my bags, you won’t be hearing from just me. I’ll make a scandal, I don’t care if I have to go to the police. I just lost my father, and the last thing I need is to be treated like scum.”

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