President Francois Hollande’s decision to allow a 15-year-old Kosovar girl who was expelled this month with her family to return to France by herself sparked criticism from all sides.
The girl, Leonarda Dibrani, rejected the offer because it didn’t include the rest of her family. Members of Hollande’s Socialist Party said he spoke out too late and too timidly. Opposition parties said his mixed message will encourage illegal immigration.
Le Figaro, a newspaper that regularly opposes Hollande, and Liberation, which generally supports him, were in agreement today. “The Fiasco” was Le Figaro’s headline. “Immigration: The Left Disintegrates” was the judgment of Liberation.
Hollande, in a television appearance Oct. 19, said no law or rights had been violated in the deportation of the Dibrani family to Kosovo. He criticized the police for showing a “lack of judgment” when they picked up the girl during a school outing.
The seven-member Dibrani family was expelled Oct. 9 after four years in eastern France when their final appeal for asylum was rejected. Leonarda, the eldest daughter, had left that day on a school trip before being taken by police. A teacher arranged for her exit from a school bus and handover to the authorities to be out of sight of her classmates.
Although France expelled 37,000 undocumented foreigners last year, news that the police had seemingly violated the customary “sanctuary” surrounding schools turned the affair into front-page news. Students blocked high schools in protest. Hollande’s companion, Valerie Trierweiler, told reporters that “one does not cross certain boundaries and school is one of them.” The Socialist candidate for next year’s Paris mayoral race demanded the girl be allowed back.
Manuel Valls, the Interior Minister whom polls show is the government’s most popular minister, cut short a trip to the French Antilles to defend the work of the police. Valls has been criticized by members of the Socialist Party for making comments suggesting that Roma, or Gypsies, are less willing to integrate in France.
“I completely understand the legitimate emotions this case has caused, particularly among young people,” Hollande said in his televised statement.
He said he’d sent local police chiefs instructions to avoid any arrests during school-related activities. And he said Leonarda could come back “alone” to continue her schooling.
“La Gauche Durable,” or the “Enduring Left,” a movement that comprises 25 Socialist members of parliament, said today that to have prevented the matter getting out of hand, Hollande “from the start should have accepted that the police were at fault and re-affirmed without delay the principle that a school is a sanctuary.”
Jean-Francois Cope, head of the opposition UMP party of former President Nicolas Sarkozy, said on Europe1 radio yesterday that Hollande administered a “terrible blow to the authority of the state by trying to find an un-findable compromise among the various factions of the left.”
A BVA poll for Le Parisien showed that 65 percent of the French are in favor of the Dibrani’s expulsion, and 74 percent approve of Valls’ handling of the affair. The poll questioned 1,090 people.
Hollande “humiliated France with his lack of authority,” Marine Le Pen, head of the anti-immigration National Front, said on France2 television today. “It is ridiculous for the President to lower France by dealing with an affair that isn’t even at the level of responsibility of a deputy prefect.”