The French deportation of a Roma student

For the past three weeks, a very divisive topic has occupied French public opinion. On October 9th, a Roma girl from Kosovo was deported from the country together with her family. The teenager (15 years old) has spent most of her life in France and is a native French speaker. The decision to deport Leonarda Dibrani and her family was taken by the French Ministry of Interior in an effort to return all undocumented immigrants to their country of origin.

This action caused another heated debate on immigration, integration and the safeguarding of French national values. The protests in support of the girl and her family lasted for two days.

It is not the first time that the Roma community has found itself at the center of an immigration row in France. Just a few years ago, Roma people, this time from Romania and Bulgaria, were deported even though they were EU citizens. The problem is why is the Roma community the only one being stigmatized by the French media and authorities? They are not the only group of undocumented immigrants in the country, and certainly not the only one who fails to "integrate itself into French society and accept its values", as many who support the deportation claim. 

Will the French authorities deport those people from their former colonies who haven't integrated into French society? They might not, because they are former colonial subjects and France still wants to have a meddling influence in their country. Or perhaps they will equally deport all illegal immigrants. So why do we never read any reports about protests against deportations of people of other ethnic origin in France? Roma people are being stigmatized and brought to the forefront of an issue that all countries have, and yet, as the issue is sensitive enough when other ethnic groups are concerned, nobody really cares about the Roma. 

If we think about it, many vocal groups or lobbies protest in defense of the rights black African or Jewish  people, homosexuals, women, or Muslims. But very few to do so for the Roma. They have been discriminated for centuries in every country they settled in. No government of a country with a substantial Roma community has managed to successfully create policies that would encourage their full integration. 

While it is true that in many cases, it is the Roma people who do not want to change their way of life and integrate themselves in the country they are living, we have to ask ourselves whether the governments' approach is always understandable and fair to them. The Roma are Europeans, and, in most cases, EU citizens. They have been living among us for centuries. People forget their influence and contribution in European culture and heritage, like for example, music. In Spain, Greece, Hungary and Romania, Roma music has been adding to the cultural heritage for centuries. What would Spain be without flamenco, a music to which gypsies gave their soul? 

I am not questioning to the French authorities' right to do their job of enforcing the law. Nor am I objecting to the deportations of illegal immigrants, provided they are justified and these people do not have the right to be in a country or fail to abide by its laws. What I do not approve of is that Roma people are being victimized and stigmatized. They are always the scapegoats in the French struggle to deal with their immigration problem. Why them? Because it is too sensitive to put any other ethnic group on the spot. The Roma have become the face of this political and social issue.

The worse thing is that this issue has been used to keep Romania and Bulgaria out of the Schengen Agreement and place restrictions on the free movement of people from these countries to certain EU countries. As a result, these two nations are also stigmatized and different rules apply to their citizens even though the real problem is about Roma immigration.

If a country has an immigration problem, no ethnic group should become the focus of the media's attention. All immigrant groups should be treated with the same respect, keeping their dignity while enforcing of the law. The EU Commission has already warned France several times of its treatment of the Roma, but the country failed to comply. How do they expect to create an equal European community if they fail to protect all ethnic groups that live in it, even indigenous ones?  

Edited by:
 Izabella Lobinska
Photo credits:
Mouvement Contre le Racisme et pour l'Amitié entre les Peuples (MRAP)