Rampant discrimination and exile are a common experience among the Roma - one of Europe’s most disenfranchised minorities. (Photo: Council of Europe)
BRUSSELS - French minister of interior Manuel Valls announced on Thursday (16 August) that France might consider introducing a Roma work-related insertion programme when ministers meet next week to discuss the issue.
The programme would essentially relax current limitations placed upon Romanian and Bulgarian nationals who want to work in France. Many of France’s 15,000 to 20,000 Roma are from one of the two countries.
Employers, who hire either national for at least one year, are currently required to pay a minimum of €713 in taxes to the French office of integration and immigration. The French state also only allows the nationals to work in a pre-defined set of 150 jobs and under strict conditions.
The announcement to possibly relax access to employment follows the dismantlement of a number of Roma camps in and around French cities in the past week which elicited sharp criticism from human rights organisations and raised concerns from the European Commission.
Around 240 Roma based near Lyon were flown back to Romania last Thursday, while camps near Lille were dismantled reportedly leaving some 60 children without adequate housing.
The minister noted that while France would be seeking to better integrate the Roma, the real solution remains firmly in their principal countries of origin - Romania and Bulgaria.
“It’s these countries, that want to participate in Schengen [the EU passport-free travel treaty], who need to fundamentally change the politics of their centuries-old discrimination against this population,” he said on the French radio station France Inter.
Romania and Bulgaria have fulfilled technical conditions for Schengen membership. But accession is on hold pending Dutch objections on problems with corruption and organised crime.
For its part, the Budapest-based European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) says Roma in Romania are treated inhumanly. Some, they say, have been shot at, while others have been forced by authorities to settle in rubbish dumps and near toxic waste plants.
“All in all, it’s unsurprising that Roma leave Romania,” notes the ERRC website.
The ERRC also says that giving Roma money and then sending them to Romania is a pointless exercise since many simply return.
ERRC executive director Dezideriu Gergely told this website in an email that “France should refrain from carrying out forced evictions in the absence of legal safeguards” and qualified the voluntary returns as disguised forms of collective expulsions.
He added that the recently announced “insertion villages” for Roma in Lyon and Lille, where many had been kicked out, is a reflection of a policy based solely on security concerns. The “insertion villages” were initiated by the French state in 2007 with the aim, according to the French government, to provide more sanitary and safer alternative to current Roma “ghettos”.
The “insertion village” in the industrial zone of Montreuil, for instance, is essentially a parking lot with running water and electricity. Each caravan must pay around €30 a month and children are required to attend public schools.
“This approach is not acceptable. These villages lead to segregation and strengthen the already existing stereotypes about Roma as well as reinforcing social exclusion,” said Gergely.
Meanwhile, in an op-ed published on Thursday in the French daily Liberation, EU justice and home affairs minister Viviane Reding said every member state has an obligation to integrate the Roma.
She acknowledged that the French state has put forward plans to insert Roma into society, including the “insertion villages” and expects France to follow through on its programmes.
“The commission will closely follow the developments in France in order to assure that the procedural and material guarantees introduced in 2011 are correctly applied,” wrote Reding in the op-ed.