France's main Protestant grouping has added its voice to criticism of a government programme aimed at repatriating Roma migrants and demolishing unauthorised Roma camps.
The Protestant Federation of France (FPF) has said that it is "concerned about the new direction of policies concerning the Roma population, one of Europe's most impoverished populations".
The French government began a crackdown on Roma and Traveller communities at the end of July 2010, after outbreaks of violence between Roma communities and police following an incident in which a Traveller was killed by security forces.
The FPF said the French policies on migration were again presenting a challenge to Protestants, who wanted to demonstrate solidarity, a welcome to foreigners and strangers, and support for the weakest of society.
The federation noted that in July it had denounced the "distortions and discrimination faced both by French Travellers and Roma".
It supported a call by the Conference of European Churches and the Churches' Commission for Migrants in Europe for 2010 to be a year of churches responding to migration.
French immigration minister Eric Besson said on 24 August his government had repatriated 635 Roma to Romania and Bulgaria since the crackdown, and that this figure would rise to about 950 by the end of August.
France is host to around 15,000 Roma from eastern Europe, especially Romania, according to the London-based Minority Rights Group International. At the same time, there are long-established nomadic Roma and French Traveller communities with French nationality.
The statement by the Protestant grouping follows criticism by Roman Catholic leaders of the government policy.
Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois, the president of the French bishops' conference, told reporters earlier in August that he regretted the "protectionist reflexes of those who fear the future, fear losing what they have, as more and more people are marginalised".
In a 15 August homily reported by the France24 Web site, the cardinal stated, "Can we take part in the growing gap between citizens who enjoy the security of civil rights and those who are marginalised and pushed slowly into exclusion?"
Another Catholic priest, Fr Arthur Hervet, who works with Roma communities, has said he has refused a national medal of honour he was due to receive. Hervet later said he regretted a statement saying he was praying for French President Nicolas Sarkozy to have a "heart attack".
Pope Benedict XVI, in comments seen as an implicit criticism of France, addressed pilgrims in French at Castel Gandolfo outside Rome on 22 August referring to the need, "to learn how to accept legitimate human diversity, just like Jesus came to unite people of all nations and all languages ".
The Strasbourg-based Council of Europe's anti-racism commission has said it is "deeply concerned" about the treatment of Roma communities in France.
In a 24 August 2010 statement, the European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance said Roma were being held "collectively responsible for criminal offences and singled out for abusing EU legislation on freedom of movement".
[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]