French Teenagers Barricade Schools In Protest Over Expulsion Of Roma Girl

Print Friendly

Anger erupted this week over the treatment of a 15-year-old Kosovar girl who was detained in front of classmates on a field trip. Photo: REUTERS

Hundreds of French teenagers erected barricades outside their schools and marched through Paris to protest the police expulsions of immigrant families – including some of their classmates.

A few students clashed with police firing tear gas but most marched peacefully, some climbing on bus shelters to shout demands for the interior minister’s resignation.

Anger erupted this week over the treatment of a 15-year-old Kosovar girl who was detained in front of classmates on a field trip. The government says her eight-member family had been denied asylum and was no longer allowed to stay in France.

Such expulsions occur regularly around France as the government tries to limit illegal immigration. But the treatment of the girl touched a nerve, with critics saying police went too far and betrayed France’s image as a champion of human rights.

The students, saying the expulsions are unfair to children, hope to pressure France’s Socialist-led government into allowing the girl and a recently expelled Armenian boy to return to France.

At one high school in Paris, students piled green garbage cans in front of the entrance and hung a banner saying “Education in Danger.”

“Everybody should have a chance. Everybody should have a job, work and have a family. When children try to achieve that, France refuses, and that is not my country,” said protester Romain Desprez.

Leonarda Dibrani and her brother. (REUTERS)

The Kosovar girl, Leonarda Dibrani, told The Associated Press from the northern Kosovo city of Mitrovica that she wants to return to France. Activists say her Dibrani family fled Kosovo about five years ago because they are Roma, or Gypsies, and faced discrimination and few opportunities.

“My home is in France,” Dibrani said in French. “I don’t speak the language here and I don’t know anyone. I just want to go back to France and forget everything that happened.”

Adding further confusion to the controversy, the girl’s father told Reuters that in fact, none of the family were from Kosovo bar him. They were in truth all born in Italy, had entered France illegally and pretended to have fled Kosovo because they thought they would have more chance of being granted asylum.

“They have nothing to do with Kosovo,” said Reshat Dibrani, speaking from Mitrovica, where the family are being housed.”We had asked for asylum in France but couldn’t show our Italian papers,” he said.

A Kosovar official told Reuters: “We don’t know what to do with this family. It is not from Kosovo. Only the father is from Kosovo.”

Edited by Chris Irvine