EU monitoring France's deportation of Roma 'very closely'
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The EU Rights and Justice Commission has said it will closely monitor the deportation of hundreds of Roma people from France to Romania and Bulgaria, while Romanian officials will visit Paris to discuss the issue with the foreign ministry.
REUTERS - The European Union is scrutinising the French government's campaign to expel members of the Roma community to ensure it respects the bloc's rules, a spokesman for the EU Rights and Justice Commissioner said on Wednesday.
President Nicolas Sarkozy ordered the dismantling of 300 illegal Roma and travellers' camps last month in a crime crackdown after urban riots in two cities, one involving an attack on a police station by Roma.
The decision to expel Roma, who stem mostly from Romania and Bulgaria, has raised concerns among rights groups and opposition parties who have warned Sarkozy risks stigmatising a community. The move has also strained relations with Bucharest and Sofia.
"We are watching the situation very closely to make sure rules are respected," said Matthew Newman, spokesman for EU Commissioner Viviane Reding. "If a state is deporting anyone, we must be sure it is proportionate. It must be on a case-by-case basis and not an entire population," Newman said.
Newman said EU rules allowed free movement of citizens, the right to travel, work and settle in any country of their choice in the 27-nation bloc, and France cannot stop anyone sent out from returning after their repatriation.
Since Sarkozy announced his plans in late July, 51 illegal camps have been dismantled, and a first charter flight escorting 79 Roma to Romania on a voluntary repatriation scheme will leave on Thursday. Another flight is scheduled for August 26.
Romanian Foreign Minister Teodor Baconschi cautioned in an interview on French radio on Wednesday against stigmatising an ethnic group and collectively expelling Roma.
"I hope that the law has been respected for all evictions of Roma," Baconschi told RFI radio. Two Romanian officials will visit Paris on August 30 to discuss the issue with the foreign ministry.
Roma are the largest ethnic minority in Europe, widely dispersed but mostly concentrated in central and eastern regions of the continent. The EU says the group continues to face systematic discrimination.