In a country with less than 150,000 of them in a population of over 63.5 million (compare that to Great Britain’s 500,000/62.2 million) the issue of immigration is one that constantly dominates the French political scene. 70% of its citizens said in an opinion poll conducted at the start of the year that they believe there are too many immigrants in France – while another conducted by the French opinion poller BVA (Brulé Ville et Associé) saw that Marine Le Pen, the leader of the far-right French Front National party, polled above current President François Hollande.
With local elections having just taken place, once again the topic has risen its head, and stirred debate which has provoked fanatical patriotism in a country that feels it’s culture is being lost in a swamp of cosmopolitanism. Two weeks ago, Leonarda Dibrani, a 15 year old Roma girl was detained on her way to school and deported with the rest of her family back to Kosovo having not attained asylum status.
The story drew massive press and drew a mixed response from the public. Many of Dibrani’s age were outraged, and the incident sparked two days of protests from ‘Lycée’ students. On the other hand, some were totally in favour of the mood, believing the family deserved the treatment given their status, and reinforcing the idea of many as Roma’s as second class citizens.
In the aftermath, Hollande offered Dibrani the chance to return to France, without her family, and finish her studies, a move which inevitably fell flat on its face. The offer sparked outrage from the French public, for it’s complete lack of a political and moral compass as much for it’s ridiculousness. Le-Pen criticised the President (The irony missed on her of the fact that she was involved in a protest movement against deportation) for his words, while the teenager herself called him ‘heartless’.
This egg-on-the-face moment for Hollande coincided with the report into the incident, which showed Dibrani’s father Reshat as a wife and child-beater, as well as unemployed and showing no interest in assimilating into French culture. Not only have these revelations seemingly justified the Government’s decision, but have (rightly or wrongly) casted a further bad light on the Roma community, reinforcing stereotypes that have existed for years.
All of these discoveries about the father are well and good, but the man was deported back to Kosovo weeks before the incident with Leonarda happened, and though President Hollande conceded that the operation could have been done better, his interior minister Manuel Vallis defended the decision. Speaking to French periodical ‘Journal de Dimanche’ he said “We should be proud of what we are doing, rather than feeling sorry for ourselves…Nothing will make me deviate from my path. The law must be applied and this family must not come back to France”.
While all of this is happening, Samia Ghali, a Senator of Moroccan descent running for the position of Mayor of Marseille, France’s second biggest city, was defeated in the race to become the Socialist Party’s leading candidate. While massively popular in the poorer Banlieus défavorisées’, Ghali could not apply this popularity to the greater ‘Marseilles’ a-la Barack Obama, and ultimately lost out on Sunday the 20th despite the huge media storm following her in the build up to the elections.
That was yet another hammer blow to the minorities, who have undoubtedly been targeted in the last 15-20 years. Despite the press holding an open view towards immigration, the massive (and swelling) popularity of the Front National, and its leader, shows that this openness isn’t necessarily reflected in French culture. While figureheads like Ghali serve as pin-ups to aspiring second generation immigrants, the case of Leonarda Dibrani shows that there are many hurdles for immigrants to still overcome.