High school students blocked the entrance to numerous schools in Paris and several other French cities on Thursday in protest at the deportation of foreign pupils, sparked by the expulsion of a 15 year old Roma girl earlier this month. Leonarda Dibrani was detained by police during a school trip on October 9th and deported to Kosovo along with her parents and five siblings.
About 50 schools in the French capital and the rest of the country were disrupted by second day of student protests sparked by the deportation of foreign pupils. At least 23 schools in the Paris region were taking part in the protest on Friday, with many classes empty and the entrances to some schools blocked.
Some of the protesters have also called for the resignation of Manuel Valls, the controversial interior minister who has defended the expulsion and sparked anger last month by saying Roma migrants could not integrate into French society. Mr Valls insisted that the deportation of Leonarda and the rest of her family had been carried out in line with established procedure.
Leonarda Dibrani 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 on October 8.
The deportation of illegal Roma immigrants is part of a government crackdown – instituted by the previous centre-right administration of Nicolas Sarkozy – which has included the dismantling of Roma camps across France. Opinion polls show that most French people (93%) agree that the Roma do not integrate well in France and are broadly supportive (77%) of the government’s policies. Amnesty International recently reported that more than 10,000 Roma had been evicted from temporary camps in France in the first half of the year.
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,” said Giacoma. “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.” The police have said they were carrying out orders after the family’s application for political asylum was turned down on grounds of “insufficient prospect of social and economic integration“ in France. 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.”
Leonarda Dibrani told French radio she was being denied education in Kosovo. She said she wanted to return to France to finish school. Speaking by phone to France Inter radio, Leonarda Dibrani said she and her family were isolated in Mitrovica because they were Roma. “I felt awful abandoning my friends, the school, everyone,” she recalled. “I felt ashamed too because the police were there and my friends were asking what I had done, if I had stolen something.”