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Father of Roma girl expelled from France speaks out

Video by William HILDERBRANDT

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-10-19

The father of Leonarda Dibrani, the Roma immigrant girl who was seized by police in front of her classmates last week in a case that shocked France, said Friday that his family claimed to be from Kosovo in the hope of gaining political asylum.

The father of a Roma immigrant girl who has become a cause célèbre in France said on Friday that his family claimed to be from Kosovo in the hope of gaining pity – and political asylum.

The lie didn’t work, and he and his family were expelled as illegal immigrants. His revelation is the latest twist in a tale that has shaken the French government and sent thousands of French high school students protesting in the streets on behalf of Leonarda Dibrani and other similarly deported classmates.

Dibrani, 15, was taken by police from a school field trip last week, then sent to Kosovo with her family. While such expulsions occur regularly as France tries to stem illegal immigration, the circumstances of the arrest – in front of Leonarda’s shocked classmates and teachers – outraged many.

France’s Socialist government is investigating, with Interior Minister Manuel Valls saying he expected the results of the investigation on Saturday.

Meanwhile, questions have surfaced over the Dibrani family history.

Activists who worked with the family initially said they had fled Kosovo because of discrimination against Roma, or Gypsies, and limited opportunities.

A lie for a better life

But Leonarda’s father, Reshat Dibrani, told The Associated Press on Friday that the Kosovo story was a lie aimed at achieving a better life for his six children.

Presenting copies of their birth certificates, he said he was born in Kosovo but moved to Italy years ago, and that his children were born in Italy but don’t have Italian citizenship. He believed they had a better chance at permanently settling in France than Italy, so he moved the family to France, claiming the whole family was from impoverished, post-war Kosovo.

“We said in France that we had come from Kosovo so that we could get the papers,” he said in Mitrovica, in northern Kosovo. “If I had told them that I am Kosovar and that [the children] were born in Italy, then France would say, 'Go back to Italy'.”

He said many immigrant families try similar stories. “You look to do what’s best for the family,” he said.

The case of the Dibrani family and an Armenian high school student expelled last weekend prompted protests by high school students around Paris. Thousands of teenagers, saying the expulsions are unfair to immigrant children trying to get an education and a better life, rallied peacefully at the Place de la Bastille. A few threw stones and pens at riot police trying to slow down their march, and were met by tear gas.

Leonarda Dibrani said she’s “very grateful” for the students’ support.

(FRANCE 24 with wires)


Date created : 2013-10-19


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