Italian town 'put pressure' on Roma family: mayor

19th October 2013, Comments 0 comments

The mayor of the Italian town where a Roma family at the centre of a furore in France once lived told AFP on Saturday that officials there had threatened to take custody of the children.

"We put pressure on them," said Stefano Aguzzi, the mayor of the seaside town of Fano in central Italy where the Dibrani family lived for years.

Thousands of students protested across France and shut schools on Friday to voice their anger at the high-profile expulsion of 15-year-old Leonarda Dibrani, her parents and five siblings to Kosovo, in a case that has raised questions about the government's immigration policy.

Based in Italy until 2008, the Dibrani family were provided by the town with a former school to live in but the father, Resat, was "not an easy person to deal with", said Aguzzi.

"The children hardly ever went to school even though he had signed them up. He sent them out begging. They lived in the streets," Aguzzi said.

"He was told by social workers that there was a risk that the children would be taken away if he refused to send them to school," he said.

"It was a veiled threat, a warning," he said, adding however that no legal proceedings were begun.

"We told him that he could not continue living here without paying for anything. We gave him a set of rules for him to be able to stay."

A local charity volunteer in Fano, Primo Ciarlantini, told Il Fatto Quotidiano daily that the Dibranis left for France because of the threat.

"Resat decided to go to France when the possibility of him losing custody of his daughters was mooted," Ciarlantini was quoted as saying.

"The town authorities wanted to take custody of the daughters and give them citizenship but he could not accept that," Ciarlantini said.

He said he had tried to help the father find jobs.

"He would last two days and then argue with everyone. He lived hand to mouth, he often went round collecting iron. Here in Fano they were really desperately poor," he said.

Ciarlantini's daughter, Costanza, said schooling the daughters had been an uphill struggle.

"Making them study was not easy. The father did not want them to go to school," she said.

Deported after her family was denied asylum status, Leonarda's case captured public attention because she was detained in the middle of a school outing.

Leonarda's father has since admitted twisting the truth about his family's Kosovo origins to boost their chances at winning refugee status in France.

Dibrani now says he is the only one in his family to have been born in the breakaway province which declared independence from Serbia in 2008.

His wife Xhemaili was born in Italy as well as five of their six children, including Leonarda.

He took his family to France from Italy in 2008 "without papers", he said on Friday.

© 2013 AFP

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