Families in turmoil: 'I phone and phone, but it never rings...'

John Lichfield joins desperate expats in Paris waiting for news of the loved ones they fear are lost for ever

On the elegant Boulevard de Villiers in central Paris yesterday, an anxious crowd besieged a small, untidy ground-floor office. Grasping passports or half-filled forms or photographs or scraps of paper with addresses or telephone numbers, the crowd – mostly men, but a scattering of women with small children – sought news; reassurance; financial help. In some cases, they admitted, they simply needed to feel that they were doing something; or they just wanted to be near to their fellow countrymen.

A small, scuffed brass sign beside the door read: "Consulat de Haiti".

After queuing for hours, many of them turned away, frustrated and helpless. Some wanted to go to Haiti to search for relatives but did not have the money. Others wanted to bring back family members but didn't have the correct papers. Some of the younger men were illegal immigrants who knew they could not go home and knew that the Consulate could do nothing for them. But where else could they go?

"My wife and three daughters are there. I have to get to Haiti, I have to bring my daughters to France, if they are alive," said Joseph Saint Ilus, 48, eyes gleaming with tears. "But I don't have passports for my daughters and all they can give me here is this."

He waved a four-page form which listed the sheaf of documents he needed to apply for emergency papers for his daughters. "Who can help me? I can't get all this. I don't know whether my daughters are dead or alive but I must go to Haiti. I must go to Haiti to bring them here. If they have been spared, and I pray to God they have been spared, there is nothing left in Haiti for them."

Mr Saint Ilus, who has lived legally in France for 10 years, is part of the 90,000 strong Haitian diaspora in France: the largest Haitian exile community in the world. He was convinced that he could find a flight to go home in the next few days but he didn't want to leave France unless he could be sure of bringing his daughters – aged 19, 16 and 13 – back with him.

"I have tried to telephone but the line does not even ring. No one can get through no one has any news," said Mr Saint Ilus. "Everyone here is in the same situation. We cannot carry on with our lives thinking that our family may be dead or injured or homeless. But we know nothing, and we can find out nothing, except the terrible pictures that everyone sees."

Joseph Grissier, 38, was still queuing for his turn to talk to a consular official. He also planned to go back to Haiti. He wanted to know if the consulate had any news of his small township 12 miles west of Port-au-Prince.

"I have brothers and sisters and cousins there. Scores of them. But I can find out nothing about what has happened to the communities to the west of Port-au-Prince... To know nothing is terrible. To see the pictures of this calamity and not to be able to reach your family is terrible. I have phoned and phoned but the numbers don't even ring..."

Jean-Gary Cadet, 26, has been in France illegally for four years. "I find work when I can but it is hard and often I am unemployed," he said. "I came here to earn money to send back to my family – to my parents and brothers and sisters – but now I don't know whether they are alive. I cannot go back. I have no papers. I would like to go back, like these other people, but I have no papers."

The French government has announced that it will not expel illegal immigrants from Haiti for the time being. Its generosity does not extend, however, to allowing "sans papiers" such as Mr Cadet to go home and then return to France. So why did he come to the Consulate? He shrugged. "To see if anyone knew something. To be with other Haitians. To do something," he said.

After a pause, Mr Cadet added: "But I would like you to say how grateful I am to the French people, to the British people, to the American people, to all the peoples of the world for what they are trying to do for Haiti."

Life and Style
“What is it like being a girl?” was the question on the lips of one inquisitive Reddit user this week
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
Life and Style
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

German supporters (left) and Argentina fans
world cup 2014Final gives England fans a choice between to old enemies
Arts and Entertainment
A still from the worldwide Dawn of the Planet of the Apes trailer debut
peopleMario Balotelli poses with 'shotgun' in controversial Instagram pic
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
Javier Mascherano of Argentina tackles Arjen Robben of the Netherlands as he attempts a shot
world cup 2014
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight
Four ski officials in Slovenia have been suspended following allegations of results rigging
sportFour Slovenian officials suspended after allegations they helped violinist get slalom place
14 March 2011: George Clooney testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing titled 'Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity.' Clooney is co-founder of the Satellite Sentinel Project which uses private satellites to collect evidence of crimes against civilian populations in Sudan
Arts and Entertainment
Balaban is indirectly responsible for the existence of Downton Abbey, having first discovered Julian Fellowes' talents as a screenwriter
tvCast members told to lose weight after snacking on set
Life and Style
More than half of young adults have engaged in 'unwanted but consensual sexting with a committed partner,' according to research
Life and Style
A binge is classed as four or more alcoholic drinks for women and five or more for men, consumed over a roughly two-hour period
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General


£50000 - £70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

SAP Data Migration Consultant

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client, a FTSE 100 organisation are u...

Programme Support, Coms, Bristol, £300-350p/d

£300 - £350 per day + competitive: Orgtel: My client, a leading bank, is curre...

Linux Systems Administrator

£33000 per annum + pension, 25 days holiday: Ashdown Group: A highly successfu...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice