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Joy as first binational couples split by Covid meet again

"It was happiest moment in my life” said one American woman on being reunited with her French boyfriend after nine months of separation. 

6 October 2020
By Thomas Brent

Unmarried French-foreigner couples have told of their joy after being allowed to meet up against after months of separation - and campaigning - due to coronavirus travel restrictions

American Lauren Child, 34, and her French partner Xavier Sobanski, 35, had not seen each other in person for nearly nine months before their emotional reunion in Paris in late September. 

Lauren had been unable to enter France because of travel restrictions preventing people travelling from America from entering the country due to the health pandemic. 

“I first saw him through the glass [at the airport] while I was gathering my luggage, and immediately felt tears building up. As soon as I saw him, I ran into his arms and just began crying,” she told The Connexion

“I don't think I have ever been so happy in my life as I was in that moment.”

The couple first met in 2005 when Lauren was on a school trip to Europe. 

“I was 18, he was 20. He was working at a local restaurant near my hotel. When I walked in and saw him, it was love at first sight, for him too. For the three short days I was in Paris, we spent every moment we could together. It was magical, a true young love story.”

For a year after they wrote letters to each other but eventually lost touch. After 13 years, Lauren found Xavier again via Facebook and made contact.

“Immediately we were up all hours every night talking. We both never forgot each other.”

Lauren was one of the first people to receive a laissez-passer from the French government, a waiver aimed at reuniting long-term unmarried couples separated by the virus. 

The government stated at the end of September that 800 applications had been made for such waivers. 

Some 230 applications have now been accepted with laissez-passers gradually being sent to the applicants. 

The passes allow people who can prove they are in a committed relationship with a French citizen, and who have already travelled to France at least once, to pass border restrictions and enter the country for a maximum stay of three months. 

US citizen Andrew, 35, who worked as a sales broker before he lost his job due to the coronavirus pandemic, has also received a laissez-passer. 

He will fly to Paris next week to see his French partner, 35-year-old digital instructional designer Murielle, for the first time in nine months. 

Murielle said: “He will stay ten days only but after months of separation, it means the world to us.”

Their meeting was also a case of “love at first sight”. 

“We met in a bar in Paris in October 2018. Andrew was in the city for a friend's wedding and decided to stay a bit longer to visit Europe for a few days. Love at first sight, like in the movies,” Murielle said. 

A long road to reunion

For both couples, it was a long road to receiving the laissez-passers. 

Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne, a junior minister at the Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs, first announced the waiver system for separated couples on August 9. It was supposed to allow couples to be reunited within eight days.

However, it took until September 22 for the first waiver to be issued. 

Lauren said she had to reschedule her flight to France three times after applying for the laissez-passer on August 17, and only finally got it on September 23. 

Murielle reported a similar situation.

“We applied on August 20 and we got the laissez-passer almost six weeks later on September 28. Between those two dates, we had no way to follow-up on our application.”

Both Lauren and Murielle are members of a Facebook group called LoveIsNotTourism-Couples Franco Étrangers, whose members have been campaigning for the rights of unmarried couples for months. 

Even with couples separated by coronavirus now reuniting in France, the group is continuing to lobby the government to improve the laissez-passer system and to provide a voice for those overlooked by it. 

In a press release published on October 1, representatives of the Facebook group wrote that while the system had allowed the first couples to be reunited, it was not perfect and there were still problems with it. 

They said that the system only applies to French citizens and excludes long-term residents. It also requires the applicant to have been to France at least once and they point out that children of applicants are not taken into consideration, among other issues.

Iryna, 32, is a freelance copywriter from Ukraine. She is hoping to reunite with her French partner Alex, but is still waiting for a laissez-passer. 

“Let's say for Ukraine, the whole procedure has been a mess. We originally applied on August 18, and now there is a new procedure with a new submission email, and after five weeks of waiting in vain, we had to re-apply once again as the status of our original application is hovering in the limbo of the administrative realm,” she said. 

“My time away from my loved one is already approaching eight months. I almost lack fingers to count, so I will cross the remaining two fingers for luck.”

Iryna said she met Alex two years ago on her first trip abroad. He was the hotel receptionist at the hotel she was staying at. 

“I did not want to leave and he did not really want to let me go. When [I went] back to Ukraine, I was always turning my head Paris-wards - my thoughts were there, my heart was there. 

“Two months after, I came back, yet as a non-EU resident I could not stay. Since then, regular visits according to the 90/180-days visa-free regime. Then Covid. 237 days apart and counting,” she said. 

She said they are starting to doubt if she will ever be granted a laissez-passer, but if they do finally meet she will “touch him just to make sure he is real”. 

Read our coverage of the Love Is Not Tourism movement in chronological order here:

Coronavirus: transnational couples separated by travel bans

France introduces Covid travel waiver for unmarried couples

We’re still in lockdown: binational love couples tell France

France 'breaks promise' to couples separated by coronavirus

French MP: transnational couples to be reunited soon

France: First binational couple separated by Covid can meet

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