Deportation flights continue as Roma pledge to return
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Some 130 Roma were flown by the French government to Romania on Friday as Paris continued the voluntary deportation strategy it launched Thursday. Many of the Roma on board the flight pledged to return to France as soon as possible.
“Travelling people” (“gens du voyage”) is the legal term established in 1969 to refer collectively to nomadic communities on French territory that live in mobile homes or trailers and have both French nationality and a permit allowing them to move freely around the country.
The Roma, who come mainly from Romania and Bulgaria, are not included in this category under French law.
Roma advocates countered that the repatriations were hardly voluntary, claiming that those who refused the deal would end up in holding centers and eventually be sent home without funds.
Alexandre Le Cleve, a spokesman for Rom Europe, said the expulsions were pointless because nothing prevented those sent back from immediately returning to France, as many have done in the past.
Le Cleve told Associated Press Television News in an interview. “Obviously, these people come back, they are brought to the Romanian border, then come back to France, can leave again and so on. There are some Roma people who have been sent back seven or eight times, each time receiving the famous EUR300.”
Adrian Paraipan, a 37-year-old who was aboard the Lyon flight along with his wife and three children, said he planned to return to France.
France is allowed to repatriate Gypsies from Romania - who as citizens of an EU member state are allowed to circulate freely within the 27-member bloc - if they are unable to prove they can support themselves while in France, Le Cleve said.
He suggested, as human rights activists have done in the past, that the voluntary departures help inflate the total number of annual expulsions, a figure the government releases to the media with much fanfare.
Foreign-born Gypsies are often seen begging on the streets of France's cities, often with small children or puppies, and many French people consider them a nuisance, or worse.
Sarkozy's crackdown on Gypsies came on the heels of much-publicized unrest by French Roma, who attacked a police station in the center of the country after the death of Gypsy youth there. The measures are also part of a raft of new hard-line security measures by Sarkozy, who won election in 2007 on a tough-on-crime platform.
The policy is attracting increasing concern, both at home and abroad, from those who fear it discriminates against one of the European Union's most vulnerable and impoverished communities.
Romanian President Traian Basescu said, “We understand the problems created by the Roma camps outside the French cities” but insisted on the “right of every European citizen to move freely in the EU.” Romania, one of Europe's poorest countries, joined the EU in 2007.
Basescu, who was speaking Thursday in the eastern city of Iasi, pledged to “cooperate with France to find solutions.”
Some critics contend the French crackdown is a cynical ploy to divert attention from France's economic woes and attract far-right voters in the run-up to the 2012 presidential election. Sarkozy's approval ratings have been weak and a financial scandal has embroiled a top government official.
Officials insist they are not stigmatizing Roma - though Sarkozy's stance had chilling undertones in a country where authorities sent French Gypsies to internment camps in France during the occupation. They were kept there until 1946, about two years after France's liberation from the Nazis.