Roma teen's deportation was lawful, French probe says
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An investigation into the controversial deportation of Roma schoolgirl Leonarda Dibrani (pictured), 15, while she was on an outing with her school has found that her expulsion was legal, but criticised the French police’s handling of the case.
An interior ministry investigation into the controversial deportation of a Roma schoolgirl from France has found that her deportation was lawful, but said police could have used better judgment in the case.
"The decision to implement the deportation of the Dibrani family (which included 15-year-old Leonarda) was consistent with current regulations," said the report, which was released on the interior ministry's website on Saturday.
Leonarda Dibrani was taken by police on October 9 while she was on a school trip in the Doubs region in eastern France, sparking outrage among fellow students.
A Roma gypsy in origin, Leonarda was apparently not at home when police arrived at the family home to expel her mother and her six children. Her father had already been expelled from a detention centre a day earlier.
"I do not want to live here,” Leonarda said from Mitrovica in Kosovo. “For me, this is a foreign country. I want to go to France, I want to go home.”
“It has been hard so far, but this is a disaster,” her father, Resat Dibrani, told AFP, speaking of his daughter's deportation. “We will not give up. My children were integrated in France, and we will continue the fight because my children are foreign here (in Kosovo).”
Lack of judgement
French law bans the police from approaching students while they are at or near school.
The report stated that while the bus was nowhere near Dibrani's school, authorities showed a lack of judgement and recommended that the law be changed to prohibit any future incidents during school hours.
The deportation of illegal Roma immigrants is part of a government crackdown – instituted by the previous centre-right administration of president Nicolas Sarkozy – which has included the dismantling of Roma camps across France.
But the seemingly heavy-handed nature of the Dibrani expulsion has put French Interior Minister Manuel Valls in a difficult position.
Under increasing public pressure, Valls launched the investigation into the legality of the deportation of the schoolgirl and her family on Wednesday.
Last month, the European Union warned France that it could face sanctions over its treatment of its Roma community after Valls declared that France was “not here to welcome these populations”.
The Dibrani case has sparked outrage as accounts of the traumatic nature of the arrest have dominated the French press.
According to the French news site Mediapart, the teenager was on a school trip when one of her teachers received a phone call from a local official asking her to stop the bus.
The teacher initially refused and was then connected to a border police officer whose “language was stronger and more direct. He told me that we had no choice, we had to stop the bus where we were because he wanted to get one of our students in an irregular situation,” a teacher, identified as Ms. Giacoma, told Mediapart.
According to Giacoma, she managed to negotiate an agreement to stop the bus in the parking lot of another high school since the bus at that point was on a busy ring road.
“I asked Leonarda to say goodbye to her friends and then I got off the bus with her,” Giacoma said. “We went inside the high school, out of sight, and I explained the situation. She cried a lot. I took her in my arms to comfort her and explained that she was going through difficult times, it would take a lot of courage…[then] a police car arrived, two uniformed police officers came out. I told them this was a totally inhumane way to proceed with the arrest of a young girl during her school activities and they could have done it differently."
"They told me they had no choice,” Giacoma recounted.
According to the girl’s teachers and friends, Leonarda was a good student who arrived in France from her native Kosovo at an early age. France was the only country she knew and the girl is a native French speaker.
In a statement published on the Mediapart site earlier this week, the teachers of Leonarda’s school expressed their “shock” over “the methods used to return children from the Roma minority to countries they do not know, where they do not speak the language.”
The statement went on to “demand the immediate return of the children to France for their safety”.