From left 15 year old Leonarda Dibrani, joined by her brothers Ronaldo 9, Roki 11, Masar 5, expelled from France last week, during an interview for The Associated Press in a room of a shelter house in Mitrovica, northern Kosovo, on Wednesday.
(Photo: Visar Kryeziu, AP)
MITROVICA, Kosovo (AP) - Leonarda Dibrani was finishing up a field trip when French police showed up at the bus, detaining the 15-year-old schoolgirl in front of her classmates before authorities expelled her to Kosovo because her family's asylum application had been rejected.
The incident earlier this month, but which was made public this week, has sparked outrage from immigrant groups and others who say police went too far in publicly shaming the teenager. It has also been an embarrassment for President Francois Hollande's government, which has tried to portray a kinder France in a bid to distance itself from conservative predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy, known for his tough immigration policies.
An investigation into the treatment of the girl, which also drew criticism from within the ranks of Hollande's Socialist Party, has been launched.
Now, Dibrani says she just wants to get back to France.
"I was crying on my teacher's lap and he was crying," Dibrani said Wednesday, recounting her ordeal in an interview with The Associated Press. "My friends asked: 'Did you kill someone that the police are looking for you?' I was afraid. I felt bad and ashamed.
"My home is in France," Dibrani said in French, dressed in jeans and a colorful paisley print tunic. "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."
The Dibrani family - parents and six children - is now sheltered in a house in the northern town of Mitrovica in an area inhabited by ethnic Albanians. Kosovo is one of Europe's poorest regions.
The Dibrani family fled Kosovo about five years ago because they are Roma, or Gypsies, and faced discrimination and few opportunities, according to French activist Jean-Jacques Boy, who works with immigrant families in the Doubs region in eastern France, where the family lived.
The Interior Ministry said the family's application for asylum had been rejected, so it no longer had the right to stay in France.
The ministry said the family repeatedly refused to leave, so police detained the father and expelled him to Kosovo on Oct. 8. Police detained the mother and five of their children Oct. 9, but Leonarda was away on a school field trip. The ministry says police met the girl's school bus when it returned from the trip later that day.
Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault ordered an investigation into how she was taken into custody and said that if any violations are found, the family will be brought back to France and their case will be further examined.
The association Education Without Frontiers Network said the expulsion was a setback for their efforts to keep children living in the country illegally in school and to protect them from police intervention.
Conservatives defended the expulsion, saying police were enforcing the law.
But France's education minister said schools should offer sanctuary, not expose children to arrest.
The expelled father, Reshat Dibrani, said he has yet to announce to his family that France doesn't want them.
"I don't know how I will keep lying to the kids," he said. "It's bad. Every morning they ask me (when they will return to France)," he said.
A check-up for the family car has been his alibi. He said he told his children that "it will take a few days until it's repaired.
"I don't know how I will keep lying to them," he said.