Migration Debate: Deportation Scandal Grips France

Leonarda Dibrani and her family have become the latest focus of France's agonized debate over immigration. Zoom
AFP

Leonarda Dibrani and her family have become the latest focus of France's agonized debate over immigration.

Controversy surrounding the deportation of a 15-year-old Roma girl and her family continues to undermine the government of French President François Hollande. The scandal is the latest flare-up in the country's deeply divisive immigration debate.

French Interior Minister Manuel Valls on Sunday defended his decision to deport a 15-year-old Roma girl and her family to Kosovo after they lost their bid for asylum. The deportation has prompted calls for the minister's resignation by students and leftist groups.

Valls, the point person on immigration policy in François Hollande's Socialist government, has been assailed in the French media ever since police detained Leonarda Dibrani in front of her classmates while on a fieldtrip on Oct. 9. Dibrani and the rest of her family, who were living in Levier in eastern France, were all flown to Kosovo that day.

Thousands of secondary school students demonstrated in Paris and across the country last week against the government, while some politicians have backed students' demands that Valls step down, according to French media.

"We should be proud of what we are doing, rather than feeling sorry for ourselves," Valls told the French weekly Journal de Dimanche. He added, "Nothing will make me deviate from my path. The law must be applied and this family must not come back to France"

The interior minister has taken a hard line on illegal immigration, causing a rift within his own center-left party. Valls argued last month that France's 20,000 Roma migrants were "different" and not capable of integrating into French society, suggesting they should be returned to their countries of origin.

Criticism from Left and Right

Valls' most recent comments came a day after an internal investigation by the Interior Ministry found that the deportation of the Debrani family was legal, even if the manner in which it was conducted lacked judgment. Hollande echoed the findings of the report after it was released on Saturday, while indicating that Dibrani could return to France to continue her schooling. "If she makes a request, and if she wants to continue her studies, she will be given a welcome, but only she," Hollande said on live French television.

Hollande was criticized on both the left and the right for the move. The leader of the center-right opposition Union for a Popular Movement accused the prime minister of undermining the "authority of the state," while the Left Party called the decision not to allow her family to join her one of "abject cruelty."

For her part, Dibrani reportedly declined the offer. "I will not go to France, I will not abandon my family. I'm not the only one who has to go to school, there are also my brothers and sisters," she said, according to French newswire AFP. The girl's father, Resat Dibrani, added that his family, which had been living in France since 2009, would fight to return together, saying his "children were integrated in France."

The Interior Ministry report, however, determined that the father had shown "no real interest in integrating into French society." He apparently also turned down job offers, was arrested, and physically abused Leonarda and her elder sister, news website France 24 reported.

Moreover, Resat Dibrani confirmed to the AFP that he had misled French authorities by saying that his entire family had been born in Kosovo in order to boost their asylum prospects. In reality, only he was born in Kosovo, while his wife and five of his six children were born in Italy.

The Dibrani case appears to have further damaged the popularity of the embattled Hollande. A new poll published Sunday by the Journal de Dimanche gave him a record low approval rating of 23 percent. However, a survey conducted by French pollster BVA, published in Saturday's Le Parisien, showed that around 77 percent of the French public support Valls' stance on the situation, indicating continued French unease with immigration.

Over 10,000 Roma -- mostly from Romania, Bulgaria and the former Yugoslavia -- were forcefully evicted from informal settlements in France during the first half of 2013, according to a recent report by Amnesty International.

caa -- with wires

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1. optional
peskyvera 10/21/2013
Citizens of Bulgaria and Rumania - both EU countries, have the right to move freely within the EU. Does this freedom apply to Caucasians only? I smell racism.
2. Arivederci Roma
javakusum 10/22/2013
Roma are the untouchables of Europe. No one wants them, because "they cannot integrate". Well, that's precisely how they define their lives - by not accepting the norms of the regular, settled society and leading a life of freedom, of their own. While India is lambasted for discrimination against the same group of people, the fact is, it has empowered them tremendously and worked hard at integrating them. What has liberal, egalitarian Europe done? Treated this powerless group of people with contempt and injustice. Well, the least the Europeans can do is to recognise their own common heritage. That they are no different from the Indians they criticise for untouchability against members of this very group in India.
3. Scandal?
sneeekysteve 10/22/2013
Why do you call this a scandal in the headline? You create the appearance of a large amount of opposition to the deportation. Surveys show that 70% of the French people support the deportation of this girl. The only people who oppose the deportation are immigrant rights activists who support unlimited immigration into Europe.
4. A perverted notion of justice
Anglish 10/25/2013
It boggles the mind to see justice and the rule of law disregarded for illegal asylum seekers. It is for some reason okay to enter the country illegally and then demand housing schooling and healthcare for free and to decry anyone who dares mention this as a racist xenophobic neo-fascist. Can Europe be the sanctuary for all the worlds poor uneducated diaspora? Of course not, no wonder right-wing parties are increasing exponentially across the continent. This really is becoming a replay of Europe in the 1930's and look what horrors were unleashed due to intense dissatisfaction with mainstream political parties.
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