11th May 2021

Sarkozy targets Roma for explusion

  • A Roma encampment: the gypsy community is increasingly a target for politicians across Europe (Photo: Amnesty International)

French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Wednesday (28 July) announced his government is to order police to round up allegedly illegal migrants of Roma ethnicity for expulsion from French territory and destroy their encampments.

The announcement was the result of a cabinet meeting dedicated to the subject called after officers shot and killed a gypsy youth in the Loire Valley, provoking a riot by others of his community.

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The new initiative will make it easier for authorities to expel migrants for "public order" offences.

Mr Sarkozy said that Roma encampments established illegally "will be systematically evacuated."

After the meeting, interior minister Brice Hortefeux announced the schedule of round-ups: "Within the next three months, half of the illegal camps will be dismantled - camps and squats - that is to say some 300."

Europe minister Pierre Lelouche accused "Roma crime" of climbing "140% each year in Paris since 2007."

The president's office put out a statement accusing the camps of being "sources of illegal trafficking, of profoundly shocking living standards, of exploitation of children for begging, of prostitution and crime".

He said that the rioters would be "severely punished".

Mr Sarkozy called the cabinet meeting after a crowd of ‘travelling people' - the French term for itinerants - attacked a police station with axes and set cars alight following the shooting by a gendarme of a young man who had driven through a police roadblock.

The president also suggested the government would like to bring Romanian and Bulgarian police to Paris and send French police to the two eastern European states to tackle the issue.

Many Roma communities hail from eastern Europe.

At a meeting of EU foreign ministers on Monday, Mr Lelouche pressed Romania to deal with the issue, but Romanian foreign minister Teodor Baconschi told reporters afterward that the subject was a European-level concern.

"We think that if this is a problem, it is a problem of the whole EU community and so we should develop very quickly skills and programmes on the level of the European Commission, to put some substance to the EU platform for social inclusion in terms of the Roma population," he said.

"This is not an issue to be dealt with at the bilateral level between Romania and France. This is clearly a European problem and we should use European skills to gradually solve it."

Roma representatives, who were not invited to attend the meeting, accuse the government of singling out a particular ethnicity.

"Today ... I am afraid we're preparing to open a blighted page in the history of France, which could sadly lead to acts of reprisal in the days ahead," lawyer Henri Braun told reporters at a press conference with Roma leaders, reports the Associated Press.

The French Human Rights League accused the president of racism, saying in a statement: "The president of the republic has stigmatised Roma and ‘travelling people' in a racist way, by creating an unacceptable amalgamation of a few individuals with entire communities, and announcing plans for ethnically targeted evictions of illegal settlements."

Ahead of the meeting, the government was was criticised by the Council of Europe's human rights commissioner, Thomas Hammarberg, who said: "urgent measures [are needed] to treat itinerants and the rest of the French population equally."

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