Two Romanian ministers were in France Wednesday at a time of unease between the two countries over President Sarkozy’s crackdown on Roma in France. The countries have agreed to closer cooperation on reintegration of Roma into Romanian society.
A meeting between Romanian and French officials unfolded "in a constructive and amicable spirit", according to Immigration Minister Eric Besson after he had spoken in Paris with two Romanian secretaries of State – Valentin Mocanuin, secretary of state for Roma integration, and Dan Valentin Fatuloiu, secretary of public security.
Since France began the “voluntary” deportation of Roma, offering 300 euros as an incentive to each departing adult, Romanian authorities have denounced the hard-line policy. According to French plans, foreign-born Roma who refuse to take a flight will be issued orders to leave France within a month, without the handout.
However, Besson stated after the meeting, “I didn’t hear the slightest grievance” from the Romanians. “There are no tensions” between the two countries, said Fatuloiu, for his part.
In a statement released after the meeting, Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux, also present at the meeting alongside Secretary of State for European Affairs Pierre Lellouche, said that the two delegations had decided to develop “a strong partnership to foster a policy of integration of Roma in Romania”.
He also announced that the number of Romanian policemen in France would grow from four to 14 and that a Romanian magistrate would be appointed to the police force to combat what he called the “networks” of beggars and delinquents.
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)
Despite the controversy surrounding the policy, France has insisted it is acting in accordance with EU law by repatriating Roma who have been in France for more than three months without work.
“The authorities in Paris consider the Roma to be Romania’s problem. In Bucharest, it is considered a European problem. It is not easy to reconcile these two visions,” said Mirel Bran, FRANCE 24’s correspondent in Bucharest.
Waving the threat of a Roma invasion
On Tuesday, Lellouche reiterated his defence of President Nicolas Sarkozy’s security clampdown on illegal Roma camps and the ensuing deportations. In a letter to Romanian and Bulgarian officials he wrote, “The freedom of movement is not without limits and is exercised in conjunction with measures to prevent crime. It should never become an excuse for mass immigration.”
Other members of the French government have also argued that the policy is meant to stem the unrestrained flood of Roma over the border. “France is not meant to accommodate all of the Roma,” said Claude Guéant, secretary general of the Elysee, in the French daily Le Monde.
For many critics, the crackdown on Roma immigrants is merely a ploy to boost President Nicolas Sarkozy's flagging popularity before elections in 2012 and divert attention from unpopular plans to raise the French retirement age and cut public spending.
Trouble brewing in Brussels
Despite Sarkozy’s government stressing the “voluntary” nature of the repatriations, many expelled Roma have spoken openly about their intention to return to France. “We will go back on foot if we have to, even if it takes us a year,” said a newly deported resident of Barbulesti, a town less than 60 kilometres from Burcharest.
The town’s mayor, Ion Cutitaru, said he regretted that France had “turned its back” on the Roma. But, he added that Romanian officials were ultimately responsible for his people’s plight. “All this is the fault of the Romanian government. It was they who made us out to be thieves and beggars,” he said.
On Tuesday, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) joined the chorus of critics of France’s policies, warning the government against stigmatising Roma immigrants. Back in June, the same EU body had rebuked the French authorities for not doing enough to combat racist attitudes towards minority groups.
In its unusually public reproach, the ECRI expressed its disappointment at what it considered to be a “very negative” turn in the situation of Roma in France.
French Prime Minister François Fillon broke his silence on the matter on Wednesday, saying he would meet with Jose Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission, to "intensify efforts within the European framework."
The French PM has sent a letter to Barroso asking him to take steps to ensure that part of the 4 billion euros in EU funds given to Romania each year is used to settle the Roma issue.
The European Commission announced Wednesday that it would examine the legality of France’s measures to expel Roma. The European Parliament is expected to open its first session after the summer holiday with a debate on the situation of the Roma in Europe, most notably in France.
Date created : 2010-08-25