Deportation of Roma Students Sparks Impassioned Protests

Student Demonstration in front of the Paris Board of Education Photo:plus.google.com/photos/Jean-ClaudeSaget

Student Demonstration in front of the Paris Board of Education
Photo:plus.google.com/photos/Jean-ClaudeSaget

The streets of Paris were the scene of great disruption on Thursday, October 17, as high school students protested the expulsion of Roma school children, Leonarda (15) and Katchik (19). Both students belonged to families of illegal Roma immigrants, and their deportations were a result of the ongoing effort to dismantle Roma camps in a pan-European crackdown on immigration.

The deportation initiative, started by the center-right party of Nicolas Sarkozy, continues to be enforced by the current Socialist government. Minister of the Interior, Manuel Valls has received the majority of the political backlash from the students’ deportation.  Maintaining a hard line on immigration, Valls has made news for his strong rhetoric urging tightened immigration policy and enforcing the expulsion of the Roma. He believes the ethnic group as a whole has no interest in integrating into French culture.

Prior to what is being called the “Leonarda Affair,” Valls was one of the most well liked French politicians, with approval ratings over 71%, according to the marketing research company, BVA. Incidentally, these uncommonly high numbers may partly be a result of his harsh immigration policy, and it is not clear whether or not his views on immigration will change.

In response to the criticism, much of which originates within his own party, the center-left Parti Socialist (PS), Valls issued a statement saying, “the deportation took place in accordance with the law with respect for people.” To support his claim, Valls issued an investigation on Wednesday into the legality of the deportation.

“If there is any fault, the order of deportation will be canceled, and the family will return,” stated Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, in an effort to take the heat off of Valls.

Yet, this move was not enough to quell protests led by students close in age to Leonarda and Katchik this past Thursday. Despite initial support of Valls’ policy regarding the Roma, many students were shocked by the nature of Leonarda’s deportation in actuality. Many peers were alarmed how immigrant students could be criminalized in such a public manner.

Leonarda’s initial expulsion took place in the region of Doubs on October 9,as her teacher received a call from authorities ordering their school bus to stop in order to take Leonarda into custody.  The bus was pulled over, and she left with a teacher in front of the eyes of dozens of questioning classmates.

“She was treated as if she had committed a crime, as if she had no dignity, and it was done in the middle of a school trip in front of her class,” stated Kassandra Césaire, a 16 year-old student who attended the march with other students from her high school, Colbert, in Paris.  “I can not even put myself in her shoes,” she continued.

The actual proceedings of the schoolgirl’s removal have been thrown into some question, as have the family’s origins. While originally deported back to Kosovo, according to Reuter’s, Kosovo authorities found only the father to have been born in the country, with both his wife and children born in Italy.

When asked if the country of origin altered her perception of the issue, Césaire responded that it did not change her view of the issue.  “If [the family] comes from Europe, what better reason than to welcome them?”

Over a thousand similarly minded students attempted to blockade at least eighteen schools across the city, while hundreds more marched in a gathering called into action by numerous non-profits such as “Réseau Education sans Frontiers” (RESF) – the French Education Without Borders.

Some teachers were supportive of the students’ actions, joining in the march, passing around petitions, and raising awareness by covering the case in social justice classes. Others did their best to quell the protests and return order to the school day.

“We stand against organizations who decide without democratic debate to interrupt the operation of a public service,” voiced Philippe Tournier, Secretary General of SNYPDEN, France’s national educator’s union.

Although such evictions and deportations are legal and fairly commonplace in France, as in a number of European countries, this case has rapidly become high-profile, adding to France’s on-going debate over the resident Roma population.

Update as of October 18: Manuel Valls is shortening his visit to overseas French departments in order to study the recent expulsion and ongoing demonstrations in Paris. He will look over a report tomorrow morning, October 19.

Trackbacks

  1. […] The streets of Paris were the scene of great disruption on Thursday, October 17, as high school students protested the expulsion of Roma school children, Leonarda (15) and Katchik (19). Both students belonged to families of illegal Roma immigrants, and their deportations were a result of the ongoing effort to dismantle Roma camps in a pan-European crackdown on illegal immigration. The deportation initiative, started by the center-right party of Nicolas Sarkozy, continues to be enforced by the current socialist government. Minister of the Interior Manuel Valls has received the majority of the political backlash… […]

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