The case of Léonarda, deported this week back to Kosovo, creates tension in France

French newspapers today are full of the deportation of Léonarda Dibrani, a 15 year old girl from Kosovo. Her family had been in France for four years, and she had been enrolled in school for three.

Léonarda’s situation was a particular one. Her family were refused French citizenship, but it was difficult to deport them, given the fact that Léonarda was in school. Her family’s asylum request was refused by the Office of Refugees and Immigration in 2009, and then in 2011 their appeal to the Cour Nationale du Droit d’Asile was also rejected.  The Dibrani family was then told that they had no right to stay on French territory, but they weren’t deported given the fact that they had children in school. They contested this order before the administrative court in 2012, and then the appeal court in 2013. By that time they had been living in France for four years.

To become a French citizen, you have to have lived on French territory for five years. Your children have to have been in school for three years. The Dibrani fulfilled the first criteria but not the second. As a result, Dibrani father was put in a retentive centre on the 4th of September, after an identity control, and deported the 8th of October.  The police then tried to round up the rest of the family, but the only one missing was Léonarda, on a school trip. Contact was established between Léonarda and her teacher on the school bus. Initially the teacher refused to stop the bus, but when the border control police insisted, the bus was forced to park by the roadside. The police arrived, and, a few meters away from the rest of her school mates, Léonarda was taken away in a police car, and sent back to Kosovo.

The way in which Léonarda was deported seems rushed, panicked, and excessive. Was it really necessary to stop the school trip which she was on (and had the right to be on) in order that she be deported? Why was her case more urgent then others? Was it used merely to serve as an example of the government’s hardening stance towards illegal immigrants? This movement is fronted by the Interior Minister, Manual Valls, who has made a series of incendiary comments recently about the Roms, questioning their ability to integrate into French culture, and therefore their right to be in France.  Léonarda’s deportation and that of her family seems violent, yet the French authorities have made an effort to insist that there was no violence or coercion in the whole affair. It was above all Dibrani father who, by law, no longer had the right to be in France. But, when considering deportations, the authorities are obliged to consider whether it is in the children’s interest to be separated from one or both of their exported parents. In this case, even though Léonarda’s mother signaled her desire to stay in France with her children whilst her husband returned to Kosovo, the authorities, (incomprehensibly?) decided that it was in the family’s best interests to be deported together.

Rumours abound that Jean-Marc Ayrault, the Prime Minister, may make an effort to bring Léonarda and her family back to France. Yesterday he talked of the rules that govern France but also the values of the Republic, which André Gluck evoked in his article, which I translated in my last blog post. Amongst those is education, a key Republican value.  This is the reason for the uproar surrounding Léonarda’s deportation. How can the government claim to incarn Republican values whilst interrupting the education of a young girl. Is a school not a sanctuary, a place of learning, of tolerance and equality? Why then, humiliate Léonarda, and reinforce her foreignness in this way? In the past, immigrants weren’t allowed to be deported during the school term, and the border control police were asked to avoid deporting, if possible, children in school in France. However, since 2008, during the Sarkozy presidency, this request has become largely obsolete.

Nevertheless, it may be this aspect of the argument, (the right to education) that ultimately provides way for the Dibrani to return to France, and spares the blushes of the government, criticised of being too authoritarian and brutal.  If Léonarda returns to finish her education, we, the West, can pat ourselves on the back for relenting and giving the means to emancipation and liberty, through education. That’s the story that will be retold later on.

Yesterday in Paris, there was a student demonstration at Nation, in the East of Paris. Students marched with signs on which were written; ‘Resign Valls,’ and ‘A student is a citizen.’ They were protesting against Léonarda’s deportation, but also that of a young boy, Khatchik, who was deported back to Armenia.  They talked of integrated students, French speakers, who had friends and a social life in France. A young Moroccan talked of the fear he feels that the same thing will happen to him, even though he’s been studying in France for five years. The most powerful slogan of all, perhaps: ‘We are all children of immigrants!’

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