Minister cites crime statistics to justify Roma deportations
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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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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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.”