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France

Foreign minister hits back at criticism of Roma expulsions

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2010-08-28

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner has denied that France is "stigmatising a minority" by expelling thousands of Roma from the country, saying that the government accepts "criticism" of its policies, but not "caricature".

 
AP - France came under increasing pressure to stop its mass expulsions of Gypsies when a United Nations human rights panel added its voice to the chorus of condemnation against the nation that considers itself the cradle of human rights.
 
In recent weeks, France has stepped up its long-standing policy of rounding up Eastern European Gypsies, or Roma, and sending them home, sparking the ire of opposition lawmakers and European Union officials. Officials have dismantled more than 100 illegal camps and sent hundreds of Roma back to their homes in Eastern Europe in recent weeks.
 
In the latest round of criticism, a report released Friday by a U.N. anti-racism panel urged France to avoid its “collective repatriation(s)” and expressed concern that members of the minority weren’t receiving full voting, education and housing rights in France.
 
In its report, the U.N. panel, known by the acronym CERD, said it was “worried about the rise in violence of a racist nature against Roma” in France. It recommended the country “avoid collective repatriations in particular and work toward lasting solutions to challenges with the Roma based on the complete respect of their human rights.”
 
Francois Zimeray, France’s ambassador for human rights, lashed out at the findings, saying “it’s very easy to give lessons.”
 
What's the legal status of travelling Roma in the EU?

The majority of Roma originate from Romania and Bulgaria, which both became European Union member states in 2007, allowing their citizens to travel freely to other EU countries. Neither country however, is part of the Schengen area, which comprises 22 of the 27 EU member states.

That means that if they have been in a country for more than three months and have no job or no proof of substantial means on which to support themselves, they can be deported at any moment. The same goes if they are found guilty of a public order offence.

“France doesn’t pretend to give lessons to the world, even if we’re often seen as the country of human rights ... We also don’t pretend to listen to lessons from countries that don’t make a tenth of the efforts that we’ve accomplished,” Zimeray said, in an apparent reference to the members of the U.N. panel, which is made up of independent experts from countries such as Russia, China, Algeria, Pakistan and Romania.
 
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, in an address to France’s ambassadors on Friday, said about the report: “Yes, we accept the criticism. No, we don’t accept caricature, we don’t accept lumping issues together.”
 
Kouchner, a longtime human rights advocate who co-founded Doctors Without Borders, also rushed to the defense of President Nicolas Sarkozy, saying the French leader “never stigmatized a minority based on its origins.”
 
Zimeray pointed to the French policy of giving those Roma who agree to leave €300 per adult and €100 per child to help them resettle as proof of France’s good faith. Critics have lambasted the measure as ridiculous, as nothing keeps those expelled from using the money to immediately return to France.
 
“Our goal is not to add more drama to the already existing drama, more suffering to the already existing suffering, but to put an end to a situation that’s no longer tolerable,” Zimeray said at a news conference. “None of these expulsions are done without judges’ knowledge, none is done outside French and European law.”
 
Still, despite the French assurances, the European Union’s head office said Friday it would make up its own decision on the legality of the expulsions.
 
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and French Premier Francois Fillon discussed the issue in a phone call on Thursday, and next week French officials will go over the matter with several EU commissioners, said EU spokesman Olivier Bailly.
 
Both France and Romania are EU member states, and under the rules governing the 27-member block, governments are legally permitted to send citizens of other EU countries home if they can’t find work or support themselves.
 
France’s stance has prompted the EU justice commissioner to complain that “some of the rhetoric that has been used ... has been openly discriminatory and partly inflammatory.”
 
The Roman Catholic church has also waded into the debate, expressing concern. The archbishop of Paris said Thursday he planned to remind the interior minister of “lines that must not be crossed.”
 
A top Vatican official for migrant issues insisted the Roman Catholic church’s stance reflects concern for human rights, without meddling in politics. Governments are sometimes “conditioned by society, and society’s prejudice” against the Roma, Monsignor Agostino Marchetto told The Associated Press.
 
In a speech last month, Sarkozy linked Roma to crime, from prostitution to child exploitation, and the country since stepped up its expulsions of Eastern European Gypsies.
 
Last year, France sent about 10,000 of them home to Romania and Bulgaria, the Immigration Ministry has said. Before Sarkozy spoke out on the issue several weeks ago, the expulsions drew little media attention.
 
Some opposition lawmakers in France have cast the Gypsy crackdown - part of Sarkozy’s wider raft of tough-on-crime measures - as a bid by the French leader to woo the extreme right. Sarkozy’s popularity has been waning in the wake of several scandals involving top ministers.
 
There are between 10 million and 12 million Roma in the EU, most living in dire circumstances, victims of poverty, discrimination, violence, unemployment, poverty and bad housing.

 

Date created : 2010-08-28

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