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Hollande says deported teen can return to France alone


President François Hollande said Saturday that a 15-year-old girl who was deported to Kosovo could return to France, but without the rest of her family. The teenager promptly refused Hollande’s offer, saying she could not leave her family behind.


French President François Hollande said Saturday that Leonarda Dibrani, a 15-year-old schoolgirl of Roma gypsy origin at the centre of a high-profile deportation case, could return to France to continue her studies, but without the rest of her family.

“If she makes the request, in view of the circumstances, and if she would like to continue her schooling in France, she will be welcomed back,” Hollande said during a televised press conference in Paris.

The president’s announcement came amid outrage in France over the teenager’s detention during a school trip on October 9. The case has gained wide attention, with fellow secondary-school students organising large protests in France this week in defence of their former fellow student.

The case has split Hollande’s own Socialist government, with Interior Minister Manuel Valls coming under fire for his hard-line stance on forcing Roma to return to their home countries.

Valls triggered an outcry last month when he said that most of the 20,000 Roma living in France had no intention of integrating and should be sent back to their countries of origin.

While Hollande said that "no fault" had been committed by police in Leonarda’s arrest and deportation, he said he would issue an order banning the police from detaining children during any school-related activities.

A government probe into the family's deportation, which was made public earlier on Saturday, found that no laws had been broken in Leonarda's deportation even if the police could have used better judgement.

Leonarda 'will not abandon family'

Leonarda, speaking to reporters in Kosovo, immediately reacted to Hollande’s speech by saying she would not leave her family behind.

“I will not return to France alone, I will not abandon my family,” she declared. “I am not the only one who should go back to school, there are also my brothers and sisters.”

The young girl has five brothers and sisters. Four of them were, like her, born in Italy. The youngest, a 17-month girl, was born in France.


Her father, who has previously pledged to return his family to France by any means necessary, said Saturday there was “no way he would accept the separation of his family”.

Hollande’s press conference did not appear to put an end to the controversy, nor mend divisions within his own Socialist party. Party chief Harlem Désir reacted by saying the Socialists “want all of the family’s children to complete their studies in France”.

The Left Party, co-directed by far-left figurehead Jean-Luc Melenchon, issued a statement saying that forcing Leonarda to make such a decision was "abject cruelty".

"The young schoolgirl has been told by the president to choose between living with her family or returning alone to France to continue her studies," the statement said.

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.

Opinion polls show that 93% of French people agree that the Roma do not integrate well in France and 77% are broadly supportive of the government’s deportation policies.


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