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Police dismantle France’s oldest Roma slum

Miguel Medina / AFP | Roma community members walk with their belongings after the forced evacuation

French police on Thursday evacuated a controversial slum inhabited by some 300 Roma in a northern Parisian suburb to prepare for its demolition.


Local authorities in the French capital said the Samaritain slum in the Courneuve suburb, made up of ramshackle huts with no electricity or running water, posed a health and safety risk to the community.

“We cannot tolerate the presence of unsafe and unhealthy housing,” town hall spokesman Jean-Luc Vienne told FRANCE 24 earlier in August.

Those who live there feel differently. Resident Miaëla, 19, told FRANCE 24 that for most of the people living there it was “better than being on the streets” and that the Samaritain was a “well organised” community.

Set up by a Pentecostal Christian Roma group at the end of 2007, the camp included a church, three streets and 80 households. Support groups, including the Voix des Roms (Voice of the Roma) association have fought the decision, made by Courneuve’s Communist mayor Gilles Pous in 2013, to close the camp.

Government policy

“These people's whole lives are right here,” association head Pierre Chopinaud told FRANCE 24. “We’ve been working to clean the place up to a standard that would make the Samaritain’s destruction unnecessary, but the mayor just doesn’t want to listen to us.”

France accelerated demolishing illegal Roma settlements in 2010 under former right-wing president Nicolas Sarkozy, in a campaign that saw thousands of Roma “repatriated” to Romania and Bulgaria.

The controversial policy of destroying slums continued after Socialist President François Hollande took power in 2012.

Last year the Voix des Roms took French Prime Minister Manuel Valls to court, accusing him of “inciting racial hatred” when he was the country’s interior minister. Valls had stated the Roma community had, “no interest in integrating into French society for cultural reasons … or because they are in the hands of begging or prostitution rackets”.

Police and bulldozers

On Thursday morning the police formally told residents of the Samaritain slum to leave with the bulldozers arriving mid-afternoon, according to Manon Fillonneau of the European Roma Rights Group, speaking from the slum.

Fillonneau described families frantically grabbing what belongings they could and gathering along the roadside in heavy rainfall as their homes were destroyed.

Local authorities prepared 12 rooms for those residents in extreme need, such as the sick. However Fillonneau argued that this was clearly not enough considering 300 people had just lost their homes.

"They did nothing for us. They said there's no place for me," Brindus Dan, who lived in the camp with his wife and three children, including a 6-month-old baby, told AFP.

Residents were given six months to prepare for the evacuation and police gave a final warning on Tuesday.

The mayor of La Courneuve was not immediately available for comment.

The Samaritain slum in early August
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(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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