France continued its controversial crackdown on makeshift Roma camps on Tuesday when police raided a site in the Lyon area. It came a day after 70 Roma were ejected from a camp outside Paris causing anger among human rights groups across Europe.
France ignored criticism from human rights groups on Tuesday as authorities continued their forced dismantling of Roma camps across the country.
A day after police forced 70 Roma (also known as gypsies) including 19 children out of a camp in the Paris suburb of Evry, officers targeted the biggest makeshift encampment in the Lyon area.
Authorities said 121 Roma, 47 of them children, were forced off land that belonged to a property developer and just as in Monday’s evicton, no alternative accomodation has been found for the evicted families.
Martine David, the local mayor, admitted the expelled Roma were likely to set up a new camp in the area. "We are going round in circles," she told AFP news agency. "We can't offer them a permanent housing solution and I know there's a risk they will just set up another camp.”
Monday’s eviction at Evry had been ordered on the grounds the squalid camp was a risk to public health and safety and was dangerous because of its proximity to a busy train line.
"Situation will only get worse"
Interior Minister Manuel Valls’ continued strongarm approach to the longstanding Roma issue has angered human rights groups who insist it is counter-productive.
They argue the evictions are counter productive because most Roma simply end up back on the streets. Many of those who accept a small financial incentive to board a plane home quickly return, citing poverty and discrimination in their home countries of Bulgaria and Romania.
“The situation will only get worse with these expulsions,” Amnesty International’s Patrick Delouvin told FRANCE 24. “Our research has shown that in recent years these people will often just move from one camp to another. Some people have been expelled numerous times from camps” said Delouvin, who is the director of Amnesty’s operations in France.
“Without any proper alternatives for these people there will be no solution. Every time there is an expulsion all the good work NGOs have done with them is lost.”
According to Serge Guichard, who works for a Roma support group, the 19 evicted children were all at local schools but “now risk ending up on the streets”.
Although human rights groups accept the camps often act as a hub for organised crime and begging and cause tension with the local residents , forced evictions are not the answer they say.
“It is certainly ironic that a measure ostensibly taken to protect people from dangerous or unsanitary conditions can expose them to even greater hardship,” Judith Sunderland of Human Rights Watch told FRANCE 24.
Her organisation believes France should end the mass evictions and deal with each case individually. “Obviously there are people who shouldn’t be there but each individual must be treated with dignity and each situation assessed separately,” Sunderland said.
Under law the Bulgarian and Romanian Roma are permitted to stay in France for up to three months unless they apply for a work permit. Other EU nations including Britain impose similar restrictions but these regulations will be dropped in December 2013 when citizens of the two Eastern European countries will enjoy the same rights as nationals of other EU countries.
'Integration not eviction'
Last week the government tried to appease its critics by announcing they would ease employment restrictions on the Roma. Valls, however, insisted the forced expulsions would continue.
And with an estimated 15,000 ethnic Roma currently living in makeshift sites across the country, images such as those seen in Evry on Monday will be replayed over the coming weeks and months.
In 2010, former rightwing president Nicolas Sarkozy drew a storm of criticism from the European Commission when he backed the forced camp closures and subsequent deportations of Roma people in their hundreds.
But with this year’s election of a Socialist government led by President François Hollande, many human rights groups thought the policy of expulsions would be resigned to the past.
“What is most disappointing is that François Hollande had said he was open to find other solutions to the Roma issue but it has very much been business as usual,” Victoria Vasey, legal advisor for the Budapest based based European Roma Rights Centre told FRANCE 24
“This has to stop now. France needs to develop stronger integration strategies rather than these destructive strategies that don’t work,” Vasey said. “They also need to look at sustainable housing solutions. You can’t just evict people and leave them on the streets which is what’s happening now.”
France is not the only EU nation to crack down on illegal Roma camps, with Italy, Sweden and Germany also employing a similar approach in the past. A recent Ifop poll revealed 80 percent of the French population supported the closures but 73 percent accepted it was not an “effective” solution.
The interior minister took to the airwaves on Monday to defend the policy.
"I cannot support – not just as interior minister, but as a citizen, as a militant member of the left -- these shantytowns, these huts where people live in conditions that are totally unbearable," Valls told Europe1 radio.
Despite the criticism, France’s government has made it clear it is determined to deal with the issue. Valls announced on Monday he would soon be holding talks with the Romanian government, whom he blames for failing to integrate the Roma communities in their country of origin.
Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault has also called for a European Council to deal with the issue at a European level.