French Roma deportations branded 'a disgrace' by EU

By staff writers
September 15, 2010

The French government has been roundly condemned by the European Union for its ethnically-based deportations targeted on Roma camps.

In a strongly worded statement, EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding urged the European Commission to take legal action against France.

She likened the removals to actions taken in Europe around the time of the Second World War, and said that such actions were "a disgrace" and "shocking" and should never be allowed again.

The French government, which prides itself as a modern secular state, also stands accused of discrimination and intolerance for yesterday's almost unanimous Senate vote to ban Islamic face-covering veils in public.

Civil rights groups say the ban amounts to stigmatisation of the country's Muslim population.

The new law, which will criminalise those who cover their faces, affects a tiny minority – fewer than 2,000 women – and is expected to worsen tensions and reinforce marginalisation among the country's five to six million Muslims.

As for the actions against 1,000 Roma people, who have been deported to Romania and Bulgaria since late July, with more forced removals planned, opponents of the policy rigorously advocated by President Nicolas Sarkozy say that it is racist and a violation of human rights.

France deported nearly 230 Roma on 14 September 2010 alone, flying them to Romania from Paris and Marseille.

EU disciplinary action will go first to the Commission, for a decision which may be taken within two weeks, and would then go before the Court of Justice in Luxembourg. It could lead to significant fines.

On 13 September, the French media published a leaked official memo suggesting that Roma people had been specifically and ethnically targeted by the authorities, who intend to destroy 300 unauthorised traveller camps, rather than handle migrant claims on a case-by-case basis.

"[S]ettlements must be cleared within three months, Roma camps are a priority," declared the document.

Other countries are also taking punitive and harsh actions against Roma, who are sometimes called gypsies.

In England and Wales, the Green Party conference, meeting in Birmingham, passed an emergency resolution condemning the French deportations.

Claude Moraes, Labour's European spokesperson on civil liberties, described Ms Reding's speech at a press conference on 14 September as an "extraordinary political and moral statement".

The EU Justice Commissioner accused France "for purely populistic reasons and party political reasons maybe, stigmatis[ing] a whole group of citizens."

French minister for Europe Pierre Lellouche responded angrily. "France is a big sovereign country, we're not at school," he said, extraordinarily adding: "There is no budget line for Roma, Arabs, Buddhists or Jews."

Amnesty International is urging the French authorities to immediately withdraw the interior ministry order specifying the systematic eviction of illegal Roma camps as a priority.

“The Ministry of Interior is clearly targeting a particular ethnic group following the objectives stated by the French President Nicolas Sarkozy that identify ‘illegal camps’ inhabited by Roma as ‘sources’ of criminality," said David Diaz-Jogeix, Deputy Director of Amnesty International's Europe and Central Asia programme.

“Ethnic profiling of this kind has no place in the EU. The withdrawal of these instructions is the first step that the French authorities must take to show they are committed to respect for human rights and not to enforcing discriminatory policies against Roma and Travellers.”

European MPs passed a key resolution on 9 September 2010 strongly criticising France and demanding that governments across the continent promote the integration of Roma.

The EP also expressed its deep concern at "the inflammatory and openly discriminatory rhetoric” of the political discourse involved.


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