French rebuked over treatment of Roma
‘Illusory’ to think Roma can be integrated into French life, says minister Manuel Valls
A Roma family leaves their caravan during their eviction from an illegal camp in Lille on September 11th, 2013. Photograph: Reuters
The French government has been rebuked for its treatment of some 20,000 Roma in France by the European Commission and by human rights group Amnesty International.
Viviane Reding, the EU commissioner for justice, said the presence of Roma is being exploited by French politicians for political gain.
“If I’m not mistaken, there’s an election around the corner. Every time people don’t want to talk about important things like the budget or debts, they discover the Roma,” said Ms Reding said yesterday, referring to the March 2014 municipal elections and May 2014 European elections.
In a report to be published today Amnesty denounces “the vicious circle of repeated forced evictions of Roma”, more than 10,000 in the first half of this year and the rights organisation calls on the French government to ban all forced evictions.
The criticism coincides with increasingly strident rhetoric by French politicians.
“Amnesty International deplores the lack of political will shown by the central government and remarks made by certain government members who have been perpetuating cliches and stirring up animosity and attitudes of rejection,” concludes the report.
On Tuesday, interior minister Manuel Valls reiterated earlier statements that the Roma “have a vocation” to return to Bulgaria or Romania. “We have to tell the truth,” said Mr Valls.
“These populations have a way of life that is extremely different from our own.” It was “illusory” to think the Roma could be integrated in French society, he added.
Responding to the outcry provoked by his remarks, Mr Valls refused to change a word. He said that “France cannot receive all the misery of the world”.
Ms Reding noted that “we have European rules that have been signed by France, rules about the free circulation of European citizens. And they are not Roma, but individuals.”
The commissioner noted that €50 billion put at the disposition of European governments to integrate Roma immigrants “is not used. I wonder why . . . France signed a national strategy for the integration of the Roma. But the money doesn’t arrive where it should, in the towns, with the mayors, there where there are problems”.
Referring to a jeweller in Nice who recently shot dead a thief, conservative mayor of Croix Régis Cauche said that if an inhabitant of his town “committed the irreparable” by shooting a Roma, “I will support him . . . The population has had enough.”
Several French politicians have called for renegotiating the Schengen agreement which allows Roma to travel to France.
At present, Roma must obtain permits to take up jobs in 300 sectors, such as building, farming and hotels. Those restrictions will end next January.
‘Smelly’ immigrant group
“They’re waiting there in the starting blocks, like the movies . . . when they were giving away land and the gun fired and everyone raced in his covered wagon to grab a piece of land,” said founder of the National Front Jean-Marie Le Pen. He predicted Roma will be “the most visible and smelly” immigrant group.
Politicians who have attempted to help Roma, including the mayor of Lille Martine Aubry and Dominique Voynet, mayor of the Paris suburb Montreuil, are expected to pay a heavy price for their philanthropy in the municipal elections.
Amnesty recommends that no one be rendered homeless following the almost daily evictions of Roma from their encampments, that evictions cease during the winter, that the inhabitants of camps be consulted and allowed to propose alternative solutions, that camps be provided with water, rubbish collection and access to toilets and that the rights of Roma to medical care and schooling for their children not be interrupted by evictions.