20 Oct 2013

Hollande says deported Roma girl may return to France

2:55 pm on 20 October 2013

French President Francois Hollande, has said that a Roma schoolgirl who was deported to Kosovo with her family, can return on her own if she wants to continue her studies.

French students staged nationwide protests after 15-year-old Leonarda Dibrani was detained in front of her classmates at the end of a school trip.

She was ordered off a school bus by the police before being sent this month to Kosovo, her father's native country. The family had entered France illegally in 2009.

Thousands of students marched through Paris and surrounding cities on Friday demanding she be allowed to return to France, and Socialist lawmakers warned the party was at risk of 'losing its soul' with its tough deportation tactics.

Frustration over illegal migration and Roma camps on the outskirts of French cities has bolstered support for the far-right National Front party ahead of municipal and European elections next year, putting Mr Hollande in a delicate position.

His gesture toward the teenager appeared to be designed to show clemency without undermining his interior minister or offering fodder to a burdgeoning far-right movement.

The Socialist leader defended the deportation as legally sound because the Dibranis had exhausted all recourse for political asylum in France but said the decision was based on the need to take her "human situation" into account.

The president, citing a 24-page investigation into the school bus incident from the Interior Ministry, said police had broken no rules during Leonarda Dibrani's removal but that guidelines limiting police action on school property needed to be reinforced.

The teenager has said from the Kosovo city of Mitrovica on Saturday that she does not want to return without her family.

"I've refused because I want to go with family, not by myself - I can't fend for myself," she told Reuters.

A source close to talks about the girl said social services would take care of her if she returned to France.