In response to the growing condemnation over the deportation of Roma from France, Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux said on Monday that crime perpetrated by Roma had skyrocketed over the past 18 months.
France’s Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux said on Monday that over the past 18 months crime committed by Roma people has increased by 259 percent in Paris alone.
The minister’s statement came after a flood of criticism and mounting party division over President Nicolas Sarkozy’s summer campaign to dismantle illegal gypsy camps and to deport Roma on a large scale to Eastern Europe. The controversy has been fuelled by declarations by the president that link Roma, Gypsies and travelling people to crime.
“Today, in Paris, the reality is that almost one in five perpetrators of a theft is a Romanian,” Hortefeux said on Wednesday at the joint press conference with immigration minister Eric Besson. “This is not about stigmatising this or that population, but we cannot close our eyes to reality.”
Besson went on to say, "We must broaden the possibilities for issuing deportation orders (for people who pose) a threat to public order by repeated acts of theft or aggressive begging." Besson told reporters he planned to add two amendments to this end to an immigration bill that will be presented to parliament late next month.
The crackdown has drawn ever-stronger criticism from rights groups and the opposition, but also – and perhaps more worryingly for Sarkozy - among members of the government and the ruling UMP party itself. French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner told RTL radio on Monday that while he favours the Roma deportation policy, he was unhappy about how the situation was handled and had even considered resigning over the issue.
Over the weekend defence minister Herve Morin attacked Sarkozy's immigration crackdown and hinted that he would soon leave the government to focus on a possible presidential bid.
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)
Former justice minister and Sarkozy protégée Rachida Dati wrote in respected daily newspaper Le Monde that she regretted that “people have let themselves lump together immigration and crime,” and called on politicians to “stop pitting French people against one another.”
Trouble brewing in Brussels
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.
Date created : 2010-08-30