Furious row over how left-wing government in France should deal with illegal immigration after 15-year-old Roma schoolgirl deported

Leonarda Dibrani arrested and expelled while on a school bus outing in France

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The Independent Online

Leonarda Dibrani, a 15-year-old Roma schoolgirl now living rough with her family on street bench in Kosovo, is at the centre of a furious row within the French government today.

Leonarda, who entered France illegally with her family almost five years ago, was arrested and expelled while on a school bus outing in eastern France last week.

Her case, publicised in a blog by her distressed teachers, split the Socialist-led French government down the middle and brought angry recriminations against the hard-line interior minister, Manuel Valls.

The Prime Minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, has ordered an inquiry by the government watchdog into the allegedly high-handed actions of police and senior officials who removed Leonarda from a bus trip with her teachers and schoolmates in Doubs, near the Swiss border. The case has inflamed an already tangled debate in France about how a left-wing government should deal with illegal immigration while facing a surge of popular support for the Far Right.

Leonarda, who speaks flawless French after nearly five years in French schools, was tracked down yesterday to a street in Mitrovica, in Kosovo, by a France Inter radio reporter. “Now, with my family, I am sleeping on a bench,” she said. “I have no right to go to school here because I am a Roma.”

Leonarda said that she hoped to return to school in France but spoke of her “shame” at being forced to leave the school outing last week. “My friends kept asking me what I had done, whether I had stolen something,” she said.

Leonarda’s parents and their five children, including one born in France, had failed in several requests and appeals for political asylum in France. When police arrived at the official shelter where they were living last Wednesday morning, Leonarda had already left on the school trip.

Frontier police called Leonarda’s teacher on her mobile phone and told her to stop the bus. Anne Giacoma said in a joint blog with colleagues that she had at first refused this request as “totally inhuman”. Eventually, she agreed to return to the school car-park and allow Leonarda to leave the bus.

Left-wing politicians called today for the resignation of Mr Valls, who drew angry criticism last month when he said that the Roma were “different” and could not integrate in France. The education minister, Vincent Peillon, said after a cabinet meeting  that a school trip should be a “sanctuary”.

“There are laws and rules but there are also the principles by which France lives,” he said.