Roma gypsy children in France are being educated in a police station - because schools refuse to let the children learn in regular classes.
France 24 reported that the 20 children, aged between six and 12, are being taught on the second-floor of a police station in Saint-Fons, Lyon, by one teacher.
Roma people in the central French city of Lyon
The children do not receive school meals, and walk 1.5km home to their encampment by the city’s bypass, according to the report.
France anti-racism charity MRAP called the situation a “ghetto” and said it denounced the move by authorities.
It said in a statement: “We condemn the refusal of the municipality to admit children in a school canteen, which forces them to return home by foot.”
The makeshift school has “poor hygiene and safety,” the charity said. “School should be a place where children integrate, but some officials have sought to make it a divider.”
The temporary Roma camp in the city is controversial with Mayor Christiane Demontès attempting to have its inhabitants forcibly removed. Approximately 15,000 ethnic Roma, mostly originating from Bulgaria and Romania, live across France.
A group of vigilantes have evicted a group of Roma (Gypsies) from a Marseille housing estate and burnt down their camp, French media report.
There were no reports of violence when the 35 Roma people were forced out of the city’s Creneaux estate.
Furniture and other items were set on fire at the camp, which was erected on wasteland at the beginning of the week.
Residents had reportedly complained to their mayor, blaming the Roma for burglaries in the area.
Caroline Godard, a member of a Roma rights group called Rencontres Tsiganes, said she was “horrified” by news of the expulsion, Le Monde newspaper reports.
It appears that residents went to the authorities on Thursday morning, before the vigilantes took the law into their own hands.
Marseille has a recent history of tension between residents and Roma who have set up camps there, often just tents erected on patches of bare ground.
The 15th arrondissement of the southern port city, where the Creneaux estate is located, is one of its poorest districts, with a large immigrant population.
At 19:30 (17:30 GMT) on Thursday, a group of about 30 vigilantes ordered the Roma to leave.
By the time police arrived in Creneaux, they found the Roma leaving and no evidence of any violence, a source close to the inquiry told Le Monde.
Officers were only able to record the incident without reporting any crime, according to La Provence newspaper. However, images from the scene clearly show property being burnt.
Mayor Samia Ghali told AFP news agency that angry residents of Marseille’s 15th and 16th arrondissements had come to see her on Thursday morning, accusing the Roma of carrying out burglaries.
Some of the residents accused the Roma of “fouling everything and entering buildings”, she said.
One resident, whose name was given only as Sabrina, told La Provence that people had appealed to the authorities only to be told they had to wait several months before they would step in.
“We were given to understand that we had to sort out the matter ourselves,” she said.
“So fine, that’s what we did. In the afternoon we phoned each other and turned up at the camp. We all know each other here. It happened very fast.”
The new Socialist government has been breaking up illegal Roma camps and deporting their inhabitants back to Eastern Europe, resuming a controversial policy followed by the previous conservative government.
An estimated 15,000 foreign Roma were living in illegal camps across France this summer.
Coming mainly from Bulgaria and Romania, they have the right to enter France without a visa but, under special rules, they must have work or residency permits if they wish to stay longer than three months.
From January 2014, or seven years after the two countries’ accession to the EU, Romanians and Bulgarians will enjoy full freedom of movement anywhere in the EU.
French Interior Minister Manuel Valls today ordered police to destroy a Roma camp in his political powerbase and to deport illegal immigrants living there.
Officers armed with truncheons and shields moved in to the settlement in the Paris suburb of Evry, where he was mayor for 11 years from 2001.
By late morning more than 70 people including women and children had been evicted from caravans and makeshift huts, with most expected to be returned to Romania.
The raid is particularly significant because it shows the Socialist firebrand is determined to ‘clean up illegal immigrants in his own back yard’, said a party colleague.
The source added: ‘Valls particularly wants to end the Roma problem – by breaking up a camp in his constituency he is showing he means business.’
A deportation order for residents of the camp was signed by the local Socialist mayor Francis Chouat who said: ‘In addition to being unhealthy, the site is extremely dangerousness.’
Mr Chouat said the site overlapped a commuter train route into Paris, and was close to potentially fatal power lines. At 7am young children could be seen dragging suitcases and bags away from the site, along with bicyles.
‘The police arrived at 5am,’ a 22-year-old Romanian called Lakatos told French radio. ‘I do not know where to go now - perhaps to a hotel, perhaps to a charity.’
Hundreds of other Roma left a nearby wooded camp on Ministry of Interior land after receiving an eviction order on Sunday.
Mr Valls ordered the destruction of numerous Roma camps across France earlier this month, with sites broken up in Lille, Lyon and Marseilles, as well as Paris.
The policy being pursued by France’s socialist government was formulated by former conservative president Nicolas Sarkozy, who was frequently accused of pandering to the far right.
His government linked Roma camps with crime, suggesting that many of the thieves and muggers operating in big cities were homeless Romanians.
Many expected the more liberal socialists to show a more relaxed attitude toward immigrants, especially those from European Union member states. But Mr Valls said the camps were a ‘challenge’ to ‘people living together’.
He insisted the police would uphold all court orders aimed at dismantling them.
Neighbours of the camps often complained about noise and anti-social behaviour, as well as serious crimes, said Mr Valls.
Humanitarian organisations have also linked the camps to ill health, including serious diseases such as tuberculosis.
Mr Sarkozy started a purge on Romas in the summer of 2010 in France, where up to 15,000 live. In turn, Roma groups accused Mr Sarkozy of ‘ethnic cleansing’, pointing to the fact that gipsies had been targeted by the Nazis during the Second World War.
They said that the purge was all part of a generally racist strategy adopted by Mr Sarkozy against all foreign groups, including some six million Muslims living in France.
Romania has been a full member of the European Union since 2007, and its citizens can enter France without a visa.
But they must get residency permits if they want to settle long term and work.
Britain, like France, has transitional controls on Romanians seeking to settle in the UK.
Until next year only those Romanian migrants who have a job or can support themselves are allowed to stay in Britain.
French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault has called for a European Council meeting to make decisions “at the European level” on the Roma - many of whom also come from Bulgaria Bulgaria.
Despite the evictions and deportations, Mr Ayrault has pledged to make it easier for those Roma who are allowed to stay in France to get jobs.
Last Thursday the Romanian government issued a statement welcoming ‘the French government’s decision to ease the Romanian and Bulgarian citizens’ access to the French labour market.’
PARIS — The French government may not know what to do with them but Roma migrants living rough on the streets of Paris believe a solution to their plight is straightforward.
“I want to work,” said Marcel Stoican, a 24-year-old father who was part of a small group of families camping Wednesday on the Place de la Republique in the centre of the capital.
As government ministers met for emergency talks on the handling of an estimated 15,000 Roma currently living in camps across France, Stoican explained his reasons for leaving his native Romania.
“I’m a stonemason, but I can also do metal work or painting. Back in Romania the most I can expect to earn is five to ten euros a day. We are outcasts there.”
For most Roma, if they can find a job in France, the odds are that it will be illegal. In practice many survive through a combination of begging and scavenging from bins.
Yelena, a 31-year-old mother of three, has been living on the tiny bit of grass that separates the two sides of the Boulevard Richard Lenoir for the last six months.
As she proudly showing off her new baby, her other children, Christina, 12, and Andrea, 5, looked on, nibbling at biscuits given to them by a passer-by.
“Here, people are kind to us. They give us things,” she said. However precarious her position in France, it seems like a better option than a return to Romania. “My children’s life is here.”
France has come under fire for dismantling Roma camps and repatriating hundreds of the migrants to Romania — a strategy deemed futile by many as there is nothing to stop them coming straight back.
That is what Vasile Mitica, 30, did. “I simply want my children to go to school,” he said. “They told us there was work in France so I got on the bus and came.”
With larger camps now vulnerable to being cleared, many Roma in the Paris region are now opting to gather in smaller groups where they are less obvious, although their presence in the 11th arrondissement has not gone down well with local cafe owners.
“They’re everywhere,” complained Paulo Goncalves, the owner of the Falstaff bar.
“They never stop hustling and hassling people, they steal tips from the tables. It’s not the Place de la Bastille anymore, it’s the Place des Roms.”
With criticism of their treatment of the Roma mounting, the French government met Wednesday to review its approach to the issue.
Ministers decided to abolish a charge of up to 300 euros (375 dollars) that employers currently have to pay to employ Bulgarian or Romanian nationals and that the list of jobs these nationals can apply for will be enlarged.
But Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault’s office said that the much-criticised dismantling of illegal Roma camps would continue if these operations are carried out after a court order.
France is one of a number of European Union countries which declined to grant Bulgarian and Romanian workers unrestricted access to their labour markets following the two countries’ 2007 accession to the EU.
Critics argue that the policy puts Roma migrants in an invidious position since they can be deported because they cannot demonstrate that they can support themselves but, at the same time, they cannot seek work legally.
One of the EU’s founding principles is that citizens should be able to work in any member state, and the transitional arrangements permitted when Bulgaria and Romania joined must be phased out by the end of 2013 in any case.
Short film about the annual pilgrimage to Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer (to visit the shrine of Sara e Kali…
I did this pilgrimage when I was 10 or 11.
Budapest, Paris, 22 August 2012: As French Government officials are participating in an inter-ministerial meeting to discuss Roma matters following a new wave of collective evictions and expulsions, the European Roma Rights Centre calls on French authorities to adopt and implement policies based on human rights values, not supposed security concerns.
Since ex-President Sarkozy kicked off an infamous campaign to systematically evict and expel migrant Romanian and Bulgarian Roma from France almost exactly two years ago, France failed to put into practice long-term, sustainable policies and solutions to address Roma related issues. Today, the French government will discuss Roma matters: a new opportunity for France to prove that “égalité and fraternité” are not just archaic concepts.
During the recent elections, President Hollande promised to end the practice of evictions and expulsions, which has been welcomed by Roma as well as the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) and other rights organisations. However, President Hollande has failed to deliver on that promise as France continues to evict and expel Roma, a method to rid France of migrant Roma that Sarkozy tried and failed.
In 2012, the new French Government has continued to forcibly evict and expel migrant Roma. So far this year, at least 4,190 Roma are reported to have been evicted or expelled and at least 350 expulsion orders have been distributed in 2012.
The ERRC has closely followed the situation in France for many years, producing a comprehensive report on France entitled, Hors d’ici! Anti-tsiganisme en France in 2005 and conducting a detailed analysis of Roma and Traveller-related policy and practice in France on behalf of the European Commission. The ERRC has also submitted two detailed submissions in August 2010 and in September 2010 to the European Commission requesting the commencement of infringement proceedings against France for failure to adequate implement EU law.
“The recent revival of mass evictions and expulsions of migrant Roma from France has prompted the ERRC to again express its concern to the French Government” said ERRC Executive Director Dezideriu Gergely in a statement. “French authorities and the public should keep in mind that Roma from Romania and Bulgaria come to France to overcome the severe human rights conditions that they face at home. Actions to help them integrate fully into the French labour market and society will be much more effective at addressing the current situation than simply paying them to leave”.
In Romania and Bulgaria Roma suffer discrimination and economic and social exclusion and State and private actors continue to target Romani communities in violent attacks. In recent months, Romanian police officers shot three Romani men, killing two. In Bulgaria, Romani individuals and communities have been targeted in at least 10 violent attacks in the last year. Similarly, high-ranking politicians and extremist political parties frequently use anti-Romani rhetoric, creating a climate in which Roma feel unsafe and unwelcome at home. Politicians in both countries, including the Romanian Foreign Minister, have made public statements suggesting that Roma are genetically predisposed to criminality. Romanian MPs have also attempted to officially change the name of Roma to “Gypsies” to avoid confusion with “Romanians”.
In short, Roma move to France to start a new life, a decent life.
For the last two years, the ERRC has engaged a full time human rights monitor in France who actively monitors the eviction and expulsion of mostly Romanian and Bulgarian Roma from France and who supports Romani migrants to challenge illegal evictions and expulsions. The ERRC documents evictions and distribution of expulsion orders, collects all necessary papers for legal aid applications and other evidence from Romani individuals and coordinates a group of French lawyers to provide court representation. The ERRC monitor attends court hearings and provides legal support if needed. The ERRC’s work aims to protect families against systematic evictions and illegal deportation and promote integration processes, while at the same time challenge the practice of French authorities to evict and expel Roma en masse, in violation of several international and regional laws, including the EU Directive on Free Movement.
On the basis of this work, the ERRC calls on the French authorities undertake the following measures with respect to migrant Roma:
- Refrain from carrying out forced evictions in the absence of legal safeguards, including adequate alternative housing;
- Ensure that no Romani individual is made homeless in the process of eviction;
- Develop sustainable, adequate integrated housing solutions for all Roma;
- Amend French law to remove “abuse of rights” as a ground for expelling EU citizens from France;
- Refrain from collectively expelling Romani EU citizens from France;
- Introduce clear guidelines on how authorities should safeguard rights in accordance with the requirements of the Directive 2004/38/EC on free movement;
- Ensure that returns to other EU Member States are truly voluntary, accompanied by reintegration assistance and take account of the needs of vulnerable peoples in the process of humanitarian returns;
- Ensure independent monitoring of all immigration processes and programmes, including both return and reintegration;
- Redirect funding earmarked for expulsions and returns to the implementation of long term inclusion policies; and
- End restrictions on Romanian and Bulgarian nationals for accessing employment in France and work with migrant Romani communities to secure formal employment in France.
This press release is also available in French.
The Council of Europe urged France on Tuesday to “go beyond short-term measures” for its Roma population, as the country seeks to end a row over its treatment of the ethnic migrants.
President Francois Hollande and his Interior Minister Manuel Valls have come under fire this summer for sanctioning the dismantling of several Roma camps and repatriating hundreds of their residents to Bulgaria and Romania.
With divisions in the government becoming increasingly apparent, Hollande has ordered ministers to thrash out their differences at talks on Wednesday, in a move that could result in Bulgarian and Romanian citizens being granted the right to work in the country.
“Wednesday’s meeting announced by the French government on Roma is a welcome step towards finding long-lasting solutions,” Council of Europe Secretary General Thorbjorn Jagland said in a statement Tuesday.
“The Council of Europe has consistently stressed the need to go beyond short-term measures. Simply moving Roma families around within or between states merely worsens their conditions,” he added.
Jagland recalled that France was among the 47 member states of the organisation to agree to policy priorities on Roma in the 2010 Strasbourg Declaration and had “committed to cooperate with other European countries to improve life for the Roma — Europe’s most marginalised minority.”
“This means focused and consistent efforts in areas such as education, housing, health care and employment. Involvement and empowerment of Roma are crucial to achieve real change,” he said.
France is one of a number of European Union countries that declined to grant Bulgarian and Romanian workers unrestricted access to their labour markets following the two countries’ 2007 accession to the European Union.
Critics argue that the policy puts Roma migrants in an invidious position as they are subject to deportation because they cannot demonstrate that they are able to support themselves but, at the same time, they cannot seek work legally.
One of the EU’s founding principles is that citizens should be able to work in any member state, and the transitional arrangements permitted when Bulgaria and Romania joined must be phased out by the end of 2013 in any case.
There has been a spate of forced evictions of Roma communities across France.
© PHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/GettyImages
French cabinet members must take action to halt forced evictions of Roma communities and set a housing policy that respects and protects their rights, Amnesty International said ahead of a high-level ministerial meeting.
The 22 August meeting called by Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault is the first of its kind since a new government came to power in France in May.
At a similar ministerial meeting two years ago, former President Nicolas Sarkozy referred to irregular camps inhabited by Roma as “sources of criminality”. Roma in France have been facing continuous forced evictions ever since.
In recent weeks, some French cabinet members have spoken out on the issue in the media amid a spate of recent police operations in different parts of France to dismantle unauthorized Roma camps and forcibly evict their residents.
“Most if not all of these recent operations to dismantle Roma camps – including in Lille, Lyon and Marseilles – appear to constitute forced evictions, as reportedly, most inhabitants have not been properly consulted or offered any alternative to housing,” said Jezerca Tigani, Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Europe and Central Asia Programme.
“This meeting is an opportunity for the new government to reverse the unacceptable practices of the past. Cabinet members must make meaningful public commitments to end forced evictions and make sure that all evictions respect France’s obligations under international human rights law. In particular, they must ensure that no Roma are made homeless and all evicted people have access to adequate housing.”
On 17 August, Amnesty International wrote to Prime Minister Ayrault calling on the French government to ensure that respect for human rights is placed at the heart of any policy discussion about the situation of the Roma.
Key to this would be to make a firm, public commitment that any eviction operations will be in line with France’s obligations under international human rights law – in particular, to ensure that nobody is made homeless and vulnerable to further human rights violations as a result of such evictions.
An estimated 15,000 Roma people live in France, out of an overall population of 66 million – prompting the French Housing Minister to admit “it is a problem we have the means to deal with”.
In a 13 August article in French newspaper Libération, Minister of the Interior Manuel Valls said that “firmness” was necessary in public policy around Roma evictions, due to what he termed “the multiplication of unsanitary camps, dangerous as much for their occupants as for their neighbours”.
“This need for ‘firmness’ must never be at the expense of human rights, and adequate alternative housing must always be offered to people facing an eviction,” said Tigani.
Earlier this year, Amnesty International conducted in-depth research into the housing situation of Roma in France. This included site visits to interview residents at several unauthorized camps and squats, as well as villages d’insertion (so-called integration villages) and other ad hoc facilities provided by local authorities.
Most of the Roma reported having been forcibly evicted numerous times in recent years, and being forced into ever-more precarious conditions with each new move.
One 32-year-old Roma woman who is a mother of three in a camp in Saint Denis, north-east of central Paris, has been living in France since her family moved from Romania when she was 9 years old. She has been evicted repeatedly – as a result she has only been able to spend between five and seven months living in any one place.
Her family was left homeless after each forced eviction.
“We are forcibly evicted from everywhere, we have no home,” she told Amnesty International.
A major concern Amnesty International has identified is that the French legal system lacks the necessary safeguards against forced evictions. As well as failing to make consultation with residents obligatory before a planned eviction, French law does not prohibit evictions that leave people homeless and vulnerable to other human rights violations.
“Any new French government policy should include reforming the laws applicable to evictions to bring them in line with international standards,” said Tigani.
In November, Amnesty International will release a report of its findings on the situation of the Roma in France.
France’s new Socialist government is to hold emergency talks on the plight of the country’s Roma after a wave of evictions of makeshift camps prompted accusations that François Hollande was following Nicolas Sarkozy’s lead in persecuting the ethnic minority.
Human rights groups expressed outrage at a recent dawn raids and forced evacuations of caravan sites and squats across France. The police raids left hundreds of Roma, including many children, homeless after caravans were impounded and no arrangements for temporary housing were made. Others were persuaded to board flights home to Romania, activists in Lyon reported.
The raids have reopened a bitter row over Roma in France. In 2010, Sarkozy prompted criticism from the European Commission and the Vatican when he linked immigration to crime and promised to expel Roma migrants and destroy illegal camps. More than 70% of illegal Roma encampments were bulldozed and families were offered a financial incentive to leave the country. Sarkozy’s government was accused of discrimination in expelling Roma Gypsies to Bulgaria and Romania. Critics alluded to uncomfortable memories of deportations during the second world war. Many of the Roma simply returned to France, but, with old camps destroyed, they ended up living in deeper poverty and worse conditions than ever, amid a climate of fear and intimidation towards them.
Hollande had promised during his election campaign that any dismantling of camps would be coupled with the promise of “alternative solutions”. But this has not happened with the recent evictions.
Behind a railway siding in Hellemmes, northern Lille, five extended Roma families and their children huddled under tarpaulins on a patch of land near an abandoned building. Flies circled piles of waste, mothers complained of rats and the stench of human excrement rose from a hole in the ground as well as faeces on grass near the edge of the camp.
“We were evicted from our camp two weeks ago, police knocked on my caravan door one morning and told me to leave,” said Anita Proda, 27, whose five-year-old son was born in France had been due to start school in September. “They took my caravan, I grabbed a bag of belongings, but had to leave most behind. We’ve got no water here, we can’t wash the children.”
Most of the evicted Roma had put a few possessions in shopping trolleys and traipsed to this spot where a makeshift camp of six caravans already existed. They are now living in cramped, donated tents surrounded by rubbish and a burned-out car. Local volunteers had been bringing jerry-cans of water .
“These people are being hunted,” said Yann Lafolie of Atelier Solidaire, which had run literacy and education projects and built wooden cabins in the long-standing camp which police dismantled earlier this month. “Our voluntary work used to be about integration, now we’re trying to handle a humanitarian crisis. This Socialist president was elected for change but there is no change here.”
In the centre of Lille a further 16 evicted families were sheltering temporarily in tents beside a church, where a local priest had said that suddenly seeing boys on bikes carrying jerry-cans of water was like “being in Burkina Faso”.
Outside Lille, in Roubaix – known as the poorest town in France – Roma at a makeshift camp in what was once a supermarket car park were nervous, fearing they would soon be evicted too. Families, including a 23-year-old mother of four suffering from cancer, lived in decrepit caravans which leaked in winter, without electricity or proper water supply, although the authorities offer rubblish collection and portable toilets.
“There’s a growing anger, a feeling of powerlessness: you can’t force people out and leave them without the least sanitary conditions,” said Bernadette Defais, a local nursing assistant, and volunteer for a local charity La Solidarite.
On a street nearby, Ramona Ripa, 22, a Roma mother of four from Romania, showed off her spotlessly scrubbed kitchen in a once abandoned terraced house. She and others now await a court ruling on whether they would be evicted from empty houses owned by the local authority which they had squatted for months, with the help of the French charity and activists group, Droit au Logement (Right to Housing). “We just want to settle in one place; put our children in school and work,” Ripa said.
Philippe Deltombe, from Droit au Logement, said: “By evicting these people, the government is not addressing the Roma issue, it’s just shifting it on to the next location.”
Images of the dismantled camps and comparisons to Sarkozy’s Roma-crackdown have been a PR disaster for Hollande. Measures under consideration in Wednesday’s emergency government talks include the possible lifting of working restrictions for Bulgarian and Romanian nationals in an effort to provide legal status for around 15,000 Roma from those two EU countries currently living in France.
Manuel Valls, the Socialist party’s tough-talking interior minister, said his government’s approach to the Roma question had “nothing in common” with the Sarkozy era, arguing that “unsanitary camps” were “unacceptable” and “a challenge to community life” in poor neighbourhoods. Officials said police had just been honouring orders made by the courts. But there has been friction within government after the Green party housing minister, Cecile Duflot, said “dismantling Roma camps without solutions is putting people in an even more precarious situation”.
A recent poll showed 80% approved of dismantling the illegal camps, but 73% thought it was not an effective measure as it merely “displaced” the problem.
People from the Roma community walk along a road after they were expelled by police from their camp.(AFP Photo / Philippe Desmazes)
EU and human rights groups say they are monitoring closely how France dismantles mobile camps across the country and removes hundreds of gypsies, to ensure Paris’s actions are consistent with the Union’s rules on the free movement of people.
Throughout the week police have broken up camps around the country, including areas in Lille, Lyon, Paris, Marseille and others. Over 200 gypsies, also called Roma, have been deported to Romania in a move – the government says – motivated by health, sanitation and security.
“We are monitoring the situation,” European Commission spokeswoman Mina Andreeva told Reuters, as the actions come under close scrutiny from the EU.
The Commission in charge of imposing EU treaties has requested further information from the French authorities on the expulsions to ensure they are being conducted in compliance with EU rules, she added.
Children from the Roma community stand along a road after their camp was evacuated by police.(AFP Photo / Philippe Desmazes)
France’s Interior Minister Manuel Valls said the evacuations were necessary due to health risks, adding the neighbors of the camps often complained about noise and antisocial behavior coming out from the settlements, as well as serious crimes.
Valls however assured that everything would be done for vulnerable people, particularly for children and pregnant women, to be re-housed as quickly as possible.
The policy of dismantling illegal camps and sending their residents back to Romania and Bulgaria, now pursued by France’s socialist government was put forward by former conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy back in 2010. Sarkozy expelled hundreds of Roma from at least 88 camps in a matter of weeks.
Children from Roma community are pictured as riot police evacuate their camp.(AFP Photo / Philippe Huguen)
The tactics were widely condemned by the EU, with Sarkozy being accused of an effort to bring in far-right voters in his bid for tough re-election campaign.
Roma groups accused Sarkozy of “ethnic cleansing”, pointing to the fact that gypsies come from Romania and Bulgaria, both members of the European Union since 2007, which gives its citizens an ability for free travel across the EU.
France however says they must get residency permits if they want to settle long-term and work, as, due to transitory measures in the EU accession agreement, citizens from these countries are not allowed to work legally in France until December 31, 2013.
“The repatriations do not take the form, in any way, of forced, collective expulsions,” said Interior Minister Valls.
The Socialist President François Hollande had promised in his election campaign that while the dismantlement of illegal encampments would continue, satisfactory “alternative arrangement would be offered.”
But rights groups argue no arrangements have been made for the residents of the illegal camps near Lille, which included some 60 children.
“Rather than embracing its predecessor’s approach, the Hollande government should urgently fix France’s problematic Roma expulsion policy,” Veronika Szente Goldston, a director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.
Roma who are voluntarily “repatriated” are given 300 euro per adult and 150 euro per child, a policy criticized by many who believe they could easily use the money simply to return to France.
Policemen evacuate a Roma camp.(AFP Photo / Philippe Huguen)
People from the Roma community are expelled by police from their camp.(AFP Photo / Philippe Huguen)
People from the Roma community walk along a road after they were expelled by police from their camp.(AFP Photo / Philippe Desmazes)
People from the Roma community stand along the road after they are expelled by riot police from their camp.(AFP Photo / Philippe Huguen)
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.
PARIS—The French government is considering giving Bulgarian and Romanian nationals equal working rights to other Europeans in the country, after the dismantlement of Gypsy camps sparked controversy for President François Hollande and drew comparisons with the policies of his predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy.
In the past week, French authorities have raided makeshift camps inhabited by Gypsies, also known as Roma, in Lille, Lyon and Marseille and evicted them. According to Human Rights Watch, the French government flew 240 Romanian Gypsies back to Romania on a flight last week and gave them as much as €300 ($369) each.
The raids “appear to be just the latest manifestation of France’s notorious expulsion policy targeting Eastern European Roma,” said Veronika Szente Goldston, a director at Human Rights Watch.
A French government spokeswoman said the flight was organized to transport Romanian citizens who had accepted a voluntary return to their country and wasn’t linked to the dismantled camps, which she called “illegal settlements.”
Mr. Hollande’s government will review options next week, including offering the Gypsies the same working rights as other European citizens, Interior Minister Manuel Valls said on French radio Thursday.
Mr. Hollande’s government has gone to great lengths to distinguish itself on social policy from Mr. Sarkozy, who served as interior minister before becoming president in 2007 and made law-and-order crackdowns a signature of his governing style. But breaking up Roma camps and offering financial incentives for repatriation appears to be a continuation of the initiatives of Mr. Sarkozy, whose mass expulsion of foreign Gypsies sparked an outcry in France and a row with the European Commission, the European Union’s executive arm.
At the time, European Commissioner for Justice Viviane Reding called Mr. Sarkozy’s policies and a government circular singling out Roma a disgrace and initiated legal proceedings against the country. Ms. Reding has weighed in on the latest evictions, though she has welcomed France’s cooperation and the government’s pledge not to target any particular group.
“The Commission will follow the developments in France very closely,” she wrote in an op-ed published in Thursday’s Libération. “There are 12 million Roma in Europe, who, like us, are at home in Europe. It is our responsibility to help them integrate.”
Mr. Valls has defended the continued breakup of the camps on the grounds of health and welfare concerns. “It’s a left-wing policy—respecting the law at the same time as ensuring integration and justice are a reality with schooling and work training,” he said.
In an editorial this week in Libération, Mr. Valls said passiveness is sparking the reappearance of shantytowns. The French public appears to agree: According to a survey Tuesday from pollster Ifop, 80% of French people are in favor of dismantling illegal Roma camps.
Granting Bulgarian and Romanian citizens full working rights would allow the French government to field criticism by distinguishing itself from other countries. Nine European countries now impose restrictions on Romanian workers, which European law permits them to do until the end of 2013. In France, Bulgarian and Romanian citizens must have a resident’s permit to work and for their first five years in France, their employers must seek permission to hire them.
The European Commission has long been urging countries to lift the restrictions, arguing it would help labor markets be more dynamic and wouldn’t lead to unmanageable population flows, said Commission spokesman Olivier Bailly.
“We think that these restrictions do not make sense in economic terms for the EU countries who still maintain them because we have never seen any massive influx of populations,” he said.
Studies show, for example, that Polish workers migrated to Ireland and helped to satisfy a labor shortage at the height of the country’s economic boom, but returned home when the Irish economy and the job market wilted in the crisis, a European Commission official said.
[Wall Street Journal]
France’s expulsion of Roma will not work, because France (and Europe) has little clue what is happening in Roma ghettoes or how to integrate Roma.
French authorities have once again started to dismantle “illegal” Roma camps, offering Romanian Roma €300 each and a free plane ticket to Romania.
A rather small range of media have picked up on the news; most have been critical of the French authorities. The European Commission has released a statement, issued, though, only by a lowly spokesperson. Politicians in France and Europe have been remarkably silent on the issue.
In the summer of 2010, France’s then president, Nicolas Sarkozy, made a promise that he would dismantle half of the illegal Roma camps set up in France and would send back Romanian and Bulgarian Roma. François Hollande – then a major figure of the opposition – and other Socialists strongly criticised the right-wing government’s approach. The European Commission implied that France was using Nazi-style practices, when Viviane Reding, the justice commissioner, said that “this is a situation I had thought Europe would not have to witness again after the Second World War”; and the European Parliament issued a strongly worded resolution condemning France’s actions. Most of the important media channels ran news condemning the French actions.
But France’s new Socialist government seems to do exactly the same as the previous right-wing government did in 2010.
Why the difference?
The clash in 2012 between Reding and Sarkozy cost both dearly. It seems that both the European Commission and the French authorities learned their lesson. Reding’s decision to leave a spokesperson to respond to inquiries continues her policy since 2010, of being very careful not to be too vocal against France. For his part, Hollande is leaving issues to the local authorities and the Ministry of Administration. Most probably, both sides hope that they have found an acceptable solution to avoid media’s attention and solve without much fuss the issues raised by the presence of illegal Roma camps in France.
The problem with this approach is that it cannot work. Neither the Commission nor the French government (or any EU government, for that matter) seems to have much clue about what is going on. The main incentives for the governments of the countries Roma are coming from as well as for the Roma themselves encourage migration to the west and not inclusion within their own societies.
Here some of the things that politicians in France, eastern Europe and officials in Brussels either do not know or do not dare to say:
- Ghettoes in Romania, Bulgaria are much worse than any illegal camp in western Europe. The number of people living in these ghettoes is increasing. So is the number of drug addicts, people infected with HIV/AIDS, criminals and functional illiterates.
- Work, begging, prostitution or petty criminality pays much better – sometimes 20 to 30 times better – in western Europe than in the places from which the Roma are travelling.
- Social services for migrating Roma are much better in illegal camps in France than services available for Romanian, Hungarian, Slovaks or Bulgarian citizens who live in ghettoes.
- Sentences for petty crimes and prisons conditions in eastern Europe make prisons in France, Italy and the UK look almost like a holiday destination.
- Paying €300 for repatriation and giving free plane tickets for repatriation is a huge waste of public money and a significant incentive for more migration. The average Roma family that migrates to France has five members; that family will receive €1,500 for going back to Romania. The cost for a bus ticket back to France is around €40 per person – €200 at most for the entire family. That means a net gain of €1,300– more than the average income for a year of a similar family in the ghetto.
- Most of the EU’s central and eastern member states have significant incentives to get rid of the Roma. Governments in Bucharest, Sofia, Budapest, Bratislava and Prague have no incentive whatsoever to stop the migration of Roma. Roma are by far the most hated ethnic minority in the region – the majority populations are very happy to vote for any anti-Roma politician. In Romania, thousands chant for the death of Roma at football games. For most politicians in the region, ‘ethnic dumping’ – Roma leaving their countries – seems a much better solution than social inclusion.
- When it comes to Roma, institutional racism – translated as a lack of significant access and participation to an institution – is at its worst in the European institutions. The lack of hands-on or even academic experience in dealing with Roma inclusion at the level of the European institutions is appalling. Some of the worst examples are the European Commission and Fundamental Rights Agency, the main organisations in charge with social inclusion of Roma at the European level. This strips the institutions of legitimacy when they make recommendations to member states about measures for the social inclusion of Roma, particularly when they refer to affirmative action.
- The presence of Roma politicians in mainstream parties or governments is abysmal. So is the presence of Roma experts or officials in decision-making positions.
- Since 1984, it has been recognised that Roma are discriminated against and excluded. But EU member states have failed dramatically to do anything substantial even to stop the trend toward increasing exclusion. The current situation is the direct result of decades of inaction or inept policies designed by well-meaning people with no experience in Roma issues.
There are solutions. But none of those solutions are immediate or cheap. Roma need to become respected, but also responsible citizens of their own countries. That cannot happen just with great speeches in Brussels or expensive conferences at five-star hotels in the capitals of eastern Europe.
Efforts should primarily be channelled towards work at the grassroots level, with a focus on getting Roma to become responsible, active citizens, on eliminating anti-Gypsyism, on creating incentives for mainstream parties, governments and EU institutions to empower Roma, and on measures to ensure that there are at least some Roma in decision-making positions on the national and European level.
A spokesperson for the European Commission told the French media yesterday that the Commission is carefully following the way in which French authorities are dissolving Romani people’s campsites and wants to ensure respect for guarantees against arbitrary deportation and discriminatory treatment. “Representatives of Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding are in contact with the French authorities to determine whether European regulations are being respected,” the spokesperson said.
Agence-France Presse quoted an unnamed representative of the Commission who said this was a “test of the new French Government”. “The Commission wants to verify France’s commitment to governing itself by the rules it has promulgated in its own legislation,” the representative said.
During the early morning hours of Thursday, French Police cleared a campsite near the northern town of Lille that was occupied by approximately 200 Romani people. The intervention followed a series of similar actions in Lyon and Paris. More Romani people who are Romanian citizens were also deported from Lyon.
Reding sharply criticized French President Nicolas Sarkozy two years ago for his deportations of Romani people who had come to France primarily from Bulgaria and Romania, which are also EU Member States. Under the threat of a court proceedings, France adopted guarantees in the end which Reding said would “protect EU citizens against arbitrary deportation and discriminatory treatment.”
The new Socialist-led government is continuing the policies of the previous right-wing cabinet. French Interior Minister Manuel Valls has ordered prefects to dissolve the campsites if court orders to dissolve them have been issued and to push for the Romani people’s return to their home countries. He has defended the interventions in recent days by saying they are legal and unavoidable because the camps pose a public health risk.
Approximately 20 000 Romani people live in France. Many of the deported Romani people who are Romanian citizens returned to France after being paid EUR 300 each to return to their home country. Valls said the Government will re-evaluate its policy regarding such financial support as well as its restrictions on Romanian citizens working in France.
Czech Press Agency, translated by Gwendolyn Albert