A couple weeks ago, Léonarda Dibrani, a fifteen-year-old girl, was with her class on a field trip. Léonarda lived with her Kosovar Roma family in eastern France, in Levier. The Dibranis had applied for asylum years earlier. In the meantime, Léonarda went to school, grew up, made friends, and integrated herself into the community. Basically, Léonarda became French.
But not French enough. While on the field trip, police stopped the school bus, asked the fifteen-year-old to get down, and then took her away. With her family, she was immediately deported to Kosovo, a place she doesn’t know, a place whose languages she doesn’t speak.
And so now, Léonarda sits in Mitrovica, in Kosovo, gives interviews and pushes to return to Levier, to France, to her school, to her friends, to her community.
Meanwhile, as the adults dither about whether Léonarda was taken `properly’, because apparently there are strict rules for State abductions of minors; about whether the Interior Minister is still `of the Left’; about whether the Left is still … the Left, the high school students have taken to the streets in protest.
Across France yesterday, thousands of high school students marched, shouted, demonstrated, closed schools and boulevards. Their message? “Documented or undocumented, they are like us. They are students!” “They” are Léonarda and Khatchik Kachatryan, a 19-year-old Paris student who, on Saturday, was deported to Armenia.
High school students said clearly, “These deportations touch people just like us.” They argued that education is a universal human right, not merely a civil right bestowed by any particular nation-State. They look at Léonarda and Khatchik and, rightly, see themselves.
The high school students of France are arguing, and demonstrating, for the sake of humanity. As the story develops, more details will emerge that will serve to complicate and obfuscate the simple truth of the students’ message: We are all humans, and no human being is illegal.
Like so many other children, Léonarda Dibrani was abducted by the State. No list of rules followed will alter that. Let’s hope the State hears and listens to its schoolchildren and returns Léonarda, Khatchik, and so many other children to France, to their homes and to their friends … now.