A Rwandan man suspected of killing a Catholic priest in west France had previously been asked to leave the country three times, stirring debate among politicians over the French deportation system.
Father Olivier Maire, 61, was found dead in a bedroom in the living quarters of the missionary priests of Montfortains, in Vendée, on Monday, August 9.
Initial investigations indicate that the priest, who was in charge of the religious community, died after receiving several blows to the head.
Earlier that morning, another man handed himself into the gendarmerie in nearby Mortagne-sur-Sèvre, and admitted to murdering the priest.
Emmanuel Abayisenga, a Rwandan citizen and practising Catholic, has since been taken into police custody and admitted to a psychiatric hospital.
Mr Abayisenga was a volunteer worker at Father Maire’s church who lived with members of the congregation. He reportedly suffers from serious mental health problems and is a suspect in an arson attack on Nantes cathedral in July 2020.
Suspect asked to leave France three times
Since arriving in France in 2012, Mr Abayisenga has been issued with an OQTF (Obligation de quitter la France) three times, meaning he has been officially ordered to leave the country, and return to Rwanda where he is a citizen.
The first two orders were cancelled by administrative courts in Nantes in 2016 and 2017 following appeals.
The third, given in November 2019, could not be enforced in the following months as Mr Abayisenga was awaiting trial for starting a fire in Nantes cathedral in July 2020.
After being imprisoned for a few months following the fire, he was placed under judicial supervision in June 2021 and went to live with the religious community led by Olivier Maire in Saint-Laurent-sur-Sèvre.
Right-wing politician Marine Le Pen has since asked on Twitter why Mr Abayisenga had not been deported from France earlier. She called Mr Maire’s murder “a failure of the state”.
Minister for Justice, Eric Dupond-Moretti, responded in a Facebook post saying the priests murder should not be used as a “political weapon”.
He said: “Those who are denouncing the situation today would have shouted that the suspect was exempt from punishment if he had been removed from France and not attended trial, with no assurance that punishment would be given in his country of origin.”
What is an OQTF?
An OQTF is issued by a prefect rather than a judge, normally to people who cannot present a valid titre de séjour or have entered France illegally.
They can only be issued to citizens of countries other than France. They cannot be given to minors, parents of minors living in France, people who have regularly spent time in France in the past 20 years or people married to a French person for more than three years.
After an OQTF is issued the recipient has 30 days to contest the decision in front of an administrative judge.
In other cases, OQTF recipients can be given 48 hours to contest the decision. The shorter timeframe is usually reserved for cases where the recipient poses a threat to public safety, has tried to renew a titre de séjour for fraudulent reasons or poses a flight risk.
If the recipient cannot pay for a lawyer, they can apply for legal aid which can extend the 48-hour or 30-day deadline by anything from two to eight months.
If in either case, the recipient is still in France beyond their allowed time, the prefect will issue a IRTF (interdiction de retour sur le territoire français) banning them from returning to France for two years, or facing three years in prison if they do so.
This can also be contested within 48 hours or 30 days.
People issued with an OQTF must return to their country or origin, the country from which they entered France, or another country where they have legal ties.
The rules are different for people from the EU, Switzerland or the European Economic Area. Citizens from these countries can only be given an OQTF if they pose a serious threat to public safety or do not fulfil the conditions to be given the right to live in France.