President Hollande Fails to Quell Leonarda Affair

Action Shot of Hollande in Questioning Photo: http://flickr.com/photos/europeancouncil

Action Shot of Hollande in Questioning
Photo: http://flickr.com/photos/europeancouncil

President François Hollande continues his involvement in the case of Leonarda Dibrani, the fifteen-year-old Romani girl deported to Kosovo over a week ago because her family was living illegally in France for nearly five years.

Attempting to avoid any further debate on immigration issues, Hollande issued a statement via national television on October 19, stating that Leonarda was welcome to return without her parents. While it’s a legally viable solution as long as Leonarda acquires a return visa issued by the head of state, critics have called Hollande’s moral intentions into question, noting that his public statement forces the girl choose between her family and education.

With Hollande’s approval ratings in the low twenties and municipal elections right around the corner in spring of 2014, Hollande’s statements represent an effort to mitigate any further backlash from what is referred to as the “Leonarda Affair.” Student protests in Paris this past Thursday and Friday blockaded multiple schools, and delayed the start of many more, demonstrating the youth’s disapproval of the method of deportation.

Although deportations of the Roma and other illegal immigrants are common and legal in France, Leonarda’s case became particularly controversial due to the manner in which she was arrested. She was escorted out of the school bus in front of her classmates. For many, the arrest was too public, infringing upon what many saw as the “sanctuary” of school, to use the words of the French Minister of Education, Vincent Peillon.

In response to the public outcry, Minister of the Interior Manuel Valls returned early from a business trip to French Caribbean nations in order to commence an investigation on the legality of the deportation. All actions were found to be legal, yet the currently in power Parti socialiste (PS) government has continued to receive heat over the case.

Minister Valls has been highly vocal in recent months against the Roma people. He stated, in late September, that the Roma people had no wish to “integrate” into French culture and that the Romani camps exterior to many French metropolises are breeding grounds for “networks of crime and prostitution.”

Valls’ approval rating has skyrocketed to above 66%, as many French agree with his tough stance on illegal immigration. In order to gain support from the far-right sector, often aligned with Marine Le Pen’s Front National (FN), the PS has maintained quite a harsh line on immigration reform to gain more voters.

Deportations and the arrest of illegal immigrants are fairly common in France, with Leonarda exemplifying only one of many French students who have been displaced. However, the controversy lies in the fact that Leonarda was effectively trying to integrate into French culture, attending school and speaking French with a “perfect accent” according to an open letter posted by her teachers online.

Despite this effort to integrate, Leonarda missed over twenty days of school this year, supposedly due to harsh treatment and potential beatings by her father. Dibrani represents an image for the cultural bias held by many French against the Romani people, as his character is in question with his treatment of his daughter. The Dibrani family lived in temporary public housing – a fact resented by the French people since the Roma group was living off of tax dollars.

After admitting to falsifying information to remain in the country, Dibrani again lied to authorities when he reported that the family was from Kosovo. The father is, in fact, the only Kosovo native of the family, while it appears the rest of the family is Italian with its precise origins still unclear.

Despite the dubiousness of the situation, Hollande has continued to receive backlash over how he has handled the issue, as immigration and treatment of the Roma continue to remain on the PS record.

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