French launch inquiry after Roma girl, 15, is taken off school bus and deported to Kosovo
Probe as 15-year-old is sent back to Kosovo with family, causing row over treatment of migrants
A new row over France's treatment of Roma migrants erupted yesterday after it emerged that a 15-year-old girl had been taken off a school bus and deported to Kosovo the same day.
The incident occurred in the eastern town of Levier on October 9 but came to light only this week after being highlighted by an NGO that campaigns against the expulsion of school-age children.
Interior Minister Manuel Valls defended the deportation of Leonarda Dibrani, her parents and five siblings aged between one and 17 as legal.
He nevertheless ordered officials to review the case and Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault promised the family would be brought back to France if the girl's rights were found to have been infringed.
"If there is a God we will be aboard the first plane back to France," Leonarda said in the Kosovo town of Mitrovica, where the family have been given temporary housing by the local authorities.
"I'm frightened, I don't speak Albanian. My life is in France. I don't want to go to school here because I don't speak any of the local languages. I had freedom there. I do not want to stay here."
France's Defender of Rights, the equivalent of a public ombudsman, also said yesterday he would be investigating the case, which has caused a deep and bitter dispute within the ruling Socialist Party.
"There is the law, but there are also values on which the left must never compromise," the Socialist speaker of the National Assembly Claude Bartolone said in a tweet.
Education Minister Vincent Peillon said: "School has to be a sanctuary. We have to retain our principles based on rights and humanity."
The Leonarda row follows an outcry last month over remarks by Valls in which he said most of the 20,000 Roma in France had no intention of integrating and should be sent back to their countries of origin.
Polls have suggested as many as three-quarters of French voters support that stance and Valls, who was already France's most popular politician, has enjoyed a surge in his standing as a result of comments regarded as racist by his critics.
Leonarda's father, Reshat, 47, who was deported a day before the rest of the family, said the family had been victimised because of their ethnicity.
"There are bad refugees in France who get papers easily, but we didn't do anything bad. They did it to us because we are Roma. We would be treated differently if our skin was a different colour."
The exact circumstances in which the girl was taken off the school bus remained unclear, but both the interior ministry's version and the account of a teacher agree that her arrest did not take place in view of other pupils.
But the teacher, who gave her account via the Network for Education without Borders, claimed that the other children were fully aware of what was happening and were deeply distressed.
Leonarda herself said: "All my friends and my teacher were crying. Some of them asked me if I had killed someone or stolen something as the police were looking for me.
"When the police reached the bus they told me to get out and that I had to go back to Kosovo."