• Top French minister says majority of Roma do not belong in France (Photo: Council of Europe)

French minister's anti-Roma remarks draw EU criticism

26.09.13 @ 09:28

  1. By Nikolaj Nielsen
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BRUSSELS - Comments by France’s interior minister to send the majority of Roma “back to the borders” have drawn sharp criticism from human rights groups and the European Commission.

The minister, Manuel Valls, told French media on Wednesday (25 September) that France is not “there to welcome these populations."

He said the Roma should return to their home countries to assimilate there instead.

He made similar comments earlier on Tuesday when he told French radio “these populations have lifestyles that are very different from ours, and are clearly in confrontation [with the French way of life].”

The French campaign to evict Roma from their makeshift camps recently reached an historic high, says Amnesty International, a British-based NGO.

An estimated 20,000 Roma currently live in France, with a quarter of the population located near the cities of Lille and Lyon.

France evicted some 10,000 of them during the first half of 2013.

“France makes no provisions for effective protection against forced evictions. In most cases they take place in a climate of hostility with no alternative housing proposed,” Amnesty's John Dalhuisen said.

The rights group said the evictions should be banned.

A 26-year old mother of four, who has experienced 15 evictions in her 10 years in France, told the NGO last week she may be forced to live in the streets unless alternative housing is provided.

“If they cannot do anything to help us, then why don’t they let us stay here? [in the camp]” she said.

Amnesty says French President Francois Hollande’s promise to improve the lives of the Roma has not materialised.

Valls' anti-Roma rhetoric comes in the lead up to French municipal elections next March.

For her part, EU justice commissioner Viviane Reding told the France-Info radio station also on Wednesday that the Roma-bashing is political.

“There's an election in the air in France. Every time they don't want to talk about important things like the budget or debts, they find the Roma,” she said.

Most Roma in France trace their origins back to Romania or Bulgaria.

Under EU law, nationals from both member states are free to travel and move around the Union.

They also have the right to live in any member state, but must sustain themselves financially after three months.

European Commission spokesperson Oliver Bailly told reporters in Brussels the fact that Bulgaria and Romania are not part of the EU's passport-free Schengen zone does not mean their citizens have fewer rights.

“The only restriction they are attributed to are border controls at the Schengen borders which is the same thing that happens to UK citizens,” he said.

Labour restrictions imposed on Romania and Bulgaria by eight member states will also be lifted on 1 January 2014.

Bailly said the free movement of European citizens and the freedom to choose one’s country of residence in the EU is a fundamental right.

“It doesn’t matter if you are Roma or French,” he said.