FRANCE

Socialist leader accused of hypocrisy over Roma expulsions

French Socialist leader Martine Aubry, a vocal critic of the government’s policy of closing traveller camps and "repatriating" their non-French inhabitants, faces accusations of hypocrisy after ordering camps closed in Lille, where she is mayor.

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As the war of words over expulsions of Roma from France escalates, the leader of France’s Socialist Party (PS) has been accused of hypocrisy for herself demanding the dismantling of a gypsy camp at Lille where she is mayor.

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.

Martine Aubry has been vocal in her opposition to French government policy, announced at the end of July, of dismantling illegal traveller camps and “repatriating” their non-French inhabitants, mainly to Romania and Bulgaria. Both countries are members of the European Union.

Last week, in a speech concluding the PS summer conference, Aubry accused French President Nicolas Sarkozy of playing on "irrational fears" in his treatment of Roma, thereby "debasing the French Republic".

Aubry believes the initiative poses a moral problem because it targets a community group, and says it is being used as a pretext by the ruling UMP party to divert attention from its economic problems.

On Wednesday, right-leaning daily Le Figaro published a letter written by Aubry’s lawyer on July 19 to the main court in Lille, asking for an order for police to evict forcibly a Roma encampment in the northern French city.

The letter, according to the Figaro, reads: “Over the last few days a number of vehicles and caravans have arrived [in the Villeneuve d'Ascq district of Lille], constituting a flagrant breach of property law and risking becoming a source of problems for neighbouring residents. There is an urgent need to order their expulsion.”

Aubry hits back

Aubry was quick to defend her actions and distance the “evacuation” of the Lille camp from the government’s more hard-line policy of repatriation.

She said that the dismantling of the Lille camps, which took place at the end of August, had been ordered well before Sarkozy’s speech in Grenoble at the end of July, where he outlined his policy against illegal Roma camps.

She also insisted that closing camps had nothing to do with the “undignified” repatriation of Roma to Romania and Bulgaria, from where the majority of non-French Roma originate.

“We do not want to be complicit in repatriations,” she said in a statement, with the exception of cases where there is a serious security problem with certain individuals “which is certainly not the case in this instance”.

Aubry said that the administrative court at Lille had cancelled the expulsion from France of 11 people who had been arrested recently, on the grounds that “illegal occupation of land does not constitute a risk to public order”.

At a press conference coinciding with the beginning of the school term, Aubry said he had written to the prefect [responsible for policing] of the Nord region [of which Lille is the principal city] to “do nothing, to stop the expulsions”.

She insisted that since Sarkozy had announced measures against illegal Roma encampments in France, there had “been no further demands” for clearing traveller cites in the city of Lille.
 

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