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French ministers defend Roma evictions

France's Immigration Minister Eric Besson (pictured) and European Affairs Minister Pierre Lellouche defended France's tough policy towards Roma people in Brussels Tuesday as the European Commission voiced concerns.


Following Paris’ recent crackdown on Roma migrants which saw illegal encampments dismantled and people forcibly returned to their home countries, tthe European Commission has stepped up the pressure on the French government to offer an explanation for its actions.

France’s Minister for European Affairs, Pierre Lellouche, and Eric Besson, the country's immigration minister, travelled to Brussels on Tuesday to meet with the European commissioner in charge of internal affairs, Cecilia Malmström, and European Commissioner for Justice Vivian Reding.

Legal evictions

Besson reiterated on Tuesday that France was "scrupulously" respecting EU laws. "The actions undertaken by the French government have prompted numerous, unacceptable caricatures and mix-ups," Besson told reporters after meeting top EU officials.

He said the talks with the European commissioners had been "frank, deep and constructive."

"I expect all Member States to respect the shared rules of the EU on free movement, non-discrimination and the common European Union values including respect for fundamental rights, including rights of persons belonging to minorities," said Reding last week. "I regret that the rhetoric used in some member states in recent weeks has been openly discriminatory."

Following those remarks, Reding ordered her staff to investigate whether the French crackdown on itinerant Roma communities violated European law.

The report is believed to examine whether the deportations violated EU laws on the free movement of its citizens within the European Union.  According to the Union’s Charter of Fundamental Rights, the rights of minorities are explicitly protected and member states are not permitted to engage in collective expulsions. 

The overwhelming majority of the Roma population in France comes from either Romania or Bulgaria, both members of the EU since 2007.  As such, residents from those countries are permitted to move freely throughout the European Union, but are subject to specific national laws because both Bulgaria and Romania are not members of the so-called “Schengen Area,” a separate European agreement that permits unfettered cross-border travel within the 25 EU states.

Paris defends the legality of its Roma deportations, claiming the migrants were illegally residing in France.  According to the French government, 979 Romanian and Bulgarian nationals have been repatriated since late July, including 151 who were forcibly returned.  French Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux said on Monday the expulsions were necessary due to a surge in crime.  In the past 18 months alone, Hotefeux argued, crimes committed by Romanians in Paris have jumped nearly 260 percent.

Threat to public order?
The Interior Ministry’s expulsion plan encountered a setback on Friday when an administrative court in the northern city of Lille annulled four Roma deportation orders. The court said the the Roma’s illegal occupation of land "was not sufficient to prove the existence of a threat to public order."

Meanwhile in Paris, pressure on the Interior Ministry is also coming from religious leaders.  The Catholic Church, among others, has expressed its opposition to the government’s forced expulsions of Roma; Cardinal André Vingt-Trois is to deliver the message in person to Brice Hortefeux in a scheduled meeting on Tuesday.


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