France needs to stop Roma evictions
04.09.12 @ 08:20
BRUSSELS - As presidential candidate Francois Hollande indicated he would not continue the government's policy to harass, evict and expel Roma to Romania and Bulgaria, pledging instead to respect their rights as EU citizens to travel, reside and work in France.
But under President Hollande, Romani settlements continue to be destroyed, with some Roma being subject to "voluntary return," and others expelled in the same summary and illegal fashion as under his predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy.
In August, French authorities evicted more than 2000 people and expelled more than 250 within one week.
Has anything changed?
Well, maybe. In the midst of increased attention and criticism, France announced that it would ease some restrictions on Roma (and others) from Bulgaria and Romania to work in France.
Easing or eliminating these restrictions would at least address the blatant hypocrisy of French policy to date: accusing Roma of being a drain on state resources while preventing them from earning a livelihood that would allow them to contribute to French society.
France has also asked that Roma be placed on the agenda of the October European Summit meeting.
The call is a welcome move. Easing the tensions caused by Roma migration requires not just protecting the rights of migrants in receiving countries, but also addressing the root causes of that migration.
These include structural poverty and rampant discrimination in sending countries. Without a focus on real inclusion and integration in eastern Europe, western Europe will continue to be a magnet for migration.
Conditions for Roma in Romania and throughout eastern Europe are bleak. Unemployment levels are alarmingly high (73% in Romania), school completion rates depressingly low (32% of Romani children in Romania complete primary school) and living conditions in segregated settlements are appalling.
Life expectancy for Roma throughout the region is 10-15 years lower than that of the majority.
Roma in these countries endure racially motivated violence and hate speech often instigated or encouraged by public officials, forced evictions from their homes and official policies that segregate Romani children into substandard schools.
For many Roma the calculus is simple: conditions in western Europe are still vastly better for Roma than those in the countries they are leaving behind.
The European Union has gone some way toward recognising that improving the socio-economic status of Roma and ending discrimination is a pan-European project.
In 2011, EU leaders endorsed an EU Framework for National Roma Integration Strategies, calling on member states and enlargement countries to adopt strategies and implement programmes to address inequities in housing, health care, education and employment.
No doubt expulsions from France, which resulted in a public row with the European Commission in 2010, impelled the EU to act.
The EU framework is certainly a step forward - but a timid step.
National strategies are woefully short on defining concrete targets (for example, increasing school completion rates, childhood vaccination rates or life expectancy for Roma). They lack concrete steps to address discrimination, which Roma face at every turn.
The framework does not bind member states to action. No concrete reporting requirements are spelled out. There is also no monitoring mechanism and no penalties for non-compliance.
Let us take the French "strategy" - it begins by noting that "ethnicity ... under French law cannot be used to construct public policies." This is remarkable given that government evictions and expulsions of Roma explicitly target a particular ethnic group.
The strategy notes that French law does not allow the gathering of data disaggregated by ethnicity. As a result, the strategy does not estimate the number of Roma living in France, or the number living in poverty.
Nor does it define targets for improving school completion rates, the building of social housing, or any other goal. The result is a strategy that cannot fail because its outcomes cannot be measured. But it is doomed to failure for the very same reason.
The Hollande government should distinguish itself from its predecessor by amending its Roma Integration Strategy to define the number and needs of Roma in the country, and to propose concrete targets and programmes to address those needs.
It should end the policy of evictions, coerced return and summary expulsions. It should immediately eliminate all work restrictions on Romanian and Bulgarian nationals. Finally, it should press the European Union to designate targeted resources for Roma integration, and create a rigorous monitoring and enforcement mechanism for the entire EU Framework.
Without these measures, the revolving door in France will continue to spin.
The writer is chair of the Budapest-based European Roma Rights Centre