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France

Minister cites crime statistics to justify Roma deportations

Video by FRANCE 2

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2010-08-31

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.

More than 100 Gypsy camps have been dismantled in recent weeks in a major push to fight illegal immigration and crime. Last Thursday, 284 Roma were sent back on the latest Bucharest-bound flights, bringing the total number of Romanian and Bulgarian Roma deported so far this year to 8,313, according to the ministry of immigration.

On Monday a federation of Roma rights NGOs called for a European-wide boycott of French products to protest what it said was the French government’s “criminalisation of an entire ethnic group.”

Emerging divisions

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.
Last week former prime minister Dominique de Villepin, a UMP heavyweight who is also expected to challenge Sarkozy for the presidency in 2012, said the attempt to correlate immigration and crime had brought a “stain of shame on our flag.”

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.

High-profile international opposition to Sarkozy’s Roma policy has also come from Pope Benedict XVI, and Czech foreign minister Karel Schwarzenberg. Writing in the Prague daily Lidove Noviny, Schwarzenberg said “one cannot avoid the suspicion that racist viewpoints are playing a role in this.”
 
But the most striking criticism has come from the EU commission’s discrimination and racism watchdog. The group has published a report urging the French government to avoid its “collective repatriation” and expressed concern that members of a European minority weren’t receiving full voting, education and housing rights in France.
Under EU laws, to which both France and Romania adhere to as member states, governments are permitted to send citizens of other EU countries home if they fail to find employment.
 
French ministers will travel to Brussels on Tuesday to discuss the situation with the European Commission, a commission spokesman said.

 

Date created : 2010-08-30

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