French interior minister faces outcry over Roma girl’s deportation

French interior minister faces outcry over Roma girl’s deportation

PARIS - France's Interior Minister Manuel Valls has defended the treatment of a 15-year-old Roma girl who was detained by police during a school trip and deported to Kosovo, amid an outcry within the ruling party.

Valls on Wednesday defended the deportation of Leonarda Dibrani, her parents and five siblings aged between one and 17 as legal, but ordered officials to review the handling of the case.

Confronted with an angry backlash from the left of the ruling Socialist party, Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault promised the family would be brought back to France if the girl's rights were found to have been infringed.

"If there is a God we will be aboard the first plane back to France," Leonarda told AFP in an interview in the Kosovan town of Mitrovica, where the family have been given temporary housing by the local authorities.

"I'm frightened, I don't speak Albanian. My life is in France. I don't want to go to school here because I don't speak any of the local languages. I had freedom there. I do not want to stay here."

Opposition lawmakers backed Valls and warned that a decision to reverse the deportation would send out a damaging message that illegal immigrants were welcome in France.

"The law has to be applied and in this case an expulsion order had twice been upheld by the judicial system," said Christian Jacob, leader of the parliamentary group of the centre-right UMP.

The fresh row over France's treatment of Roma migrants erupted Wednesday when an NGO that campaigns against the expulsion of school-age children highlighted the incident, which happened on October 9 in the eastern town of Levier.

Claude Bartolone, the speaker of the National Assembly, underlined the extent of the disquiet in the Socialist camp over the case.

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