Criticism mounted against France on Thursday as the country began expelling some 700 ethnic Roma rounded up during recent crackdowns on illegal migrant camps. The European Union has called on France to obey EU migration rules.
AFP - France began its controversial expulsion of around 700 Roma to Romania and Bulgaria on Thursday, amid rising criticism of President Nicolas Sarkozy's clampdown on the minority.
A planeload of around 60 Roma who agreed to the "voluntary return procedure" left Lyon airport for Bucharest in the afternoon, the first expulsion since Sarkozy last month vowed action against Roma, Gypsy and traveller communities.
IN PICTURES: ROMA MOVED TO GYM
Since their expulsion on 12 August from a campsite in the Parisian suburb of Choisy-le-Roi, approximately 70 Roma have been staying in the local gymnasium that city authorities made available to them. (Photo: Perrine Mouterde)
Mattresses line the walls of the gymnasium. Immigrant-rights groups have brought shampoo, detergent, blankets and food. (Photo: Perrine Mouterde)
Some of the Roma only had time to grab a few things before being expelled from their caravans. Many of them are musicians, making a living by performing under the Eiffel Tower. (Photo: Perrine Mouterde)
Among the 70 people housed in the gymnasium are around 30 children and many elderly Roma. Some of the families arrived in France a decade ago. All come from the western city of Timisoara in Romania. (Photo: Perrine Mouterde)
The mother of four-year-old Alin says she just wants a job and a place to stay with a shower, so that her son can live “like all children in France”. She says she has looked for work “every day”, in vain. (Photo: Perrine Mouterde)
Beniamin Boti, 14, arrived in France eight months ago. He is supposed to start school in September. “We’re not thieves,” he says. “Why do they want us to return to Romania? Over there, we die. We are European citizens”. (Photo: Perrine Mouterde)
Before living in Choisy, 20-year-old Codrut Sador lived in a campsite in another suburb of Paris. "Police came every day to tell us to leave," he says. "They even came here to the gymnasium at midnight. Why? We haven’t stolen anything!" (Photo: Perrine Mouterde)
Some of these Roma have been given one month to leave France, but local immigrant-rights associations are planning to take their cases to court. Their stay in the gymnasium, which is next to a school, is only temporary. (Photo: Perrine Mouterde)
A total 93 Roma were to be flown out Thursday, with flights to Bucharest and the western city of Timisoara due to take hundreds more on Friday and August 26, with each adult granted 300 euros (385 dollars) and each minor 100 euros.
With unease growing over the roundups using tactics that one member of Sarkozy's ruling party compared to those of Nazi-era France, the interior ministry insisted that each case had been looked at individually.
But Romania's President Traian Basescu said the expulsions showed the need for a Europe-wide plan on integrating Roma communities while Foreign Minister Teodor Baconschi warned against "xenophobic reactions" in the wake of the economic downturn.
"What has happened in Paris shows that we must have an integration plan across Europe for Roma citizens," Basescu told reporters, saying a previous call along similar lines had failed to result in action.
Roma people in France: easy target for discrimination?
Those who do not wish to return voluntarily receive an order to leave France with which they must comply within a month or face forced repatriation -- without the cash handout.
About 10,000 Roma from Romania and Bulgaria were returned to their countries last year, but these are the first expulsions since Sarkozy in July announced a clampdown on foreigners.
Baconschi said he "hopes" that all legal procedures have been duly applied for these "expulsions".
The European Union's executive arm has said France must abide by the bloc's freedom of movement rules when it expels Roma living illegally in the country.
The European Commission is following the situation "very attentively", a spokesman, Matthew Newman, said.
“Travelling people” (“gens du voyage”) is the legal term established in 1969 to refer collectively to nomadic communities on French territory that live in mobile homes or trailers and have both French nationality and a permit allowing them to move freely around the country.
The Roma, who come mainly from Romania and Bulgaria, are not included in this category under French law.
The French foreign ministry insisted the measures being taken against the Roma were in line with European rules.
"The measures taken by the French authorities with regard to dismantling illegal camps fully conform with European rules and do not in any way affect the freedom of movement for EU citizens, as defined by treaties," foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero told AFP.
Valero said a European directive "expressly allows for restrictions on the right to move freely for reasons of public order, public security and public health".
There are about 15,000 Roma of Eastern European origin in France.
The Roma community in Romania numbers 530,000 according to the national census or 2.5 million according to non-governmental organisations, who say that some do not declare themselves as Roma fearing discrimination.
Date created : 2010-08-19