France kicks out Roma, again
Roma in France’s northern city of Lille were expelled from their camps over the weekend as police dismantled the settlements, despite promises by President Francois Hollande to end the practice.
The police raids started early Thursday (9 August) morning with 240 others, previously evicted from camps in Lyon, "voluntarily" leaving on flights to Romania on the same day. Each adult returned to Romania received €300 and each child €100.
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France's interior minister Manuel Valls claims the camps are unsanitary and pose a public health risk. The minister said each individual’s case was evaluated by French authorities before being returned to Romania, reported Reuters.
Rights organisations say France must abide by its commitments under international human rights laws to provide alternative accommodation and that it must respect the European Union rules on freedom of movement.
Veronika Szente Goldston, Europe and Central Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch (HRW), said the raids had left 60 children without any homes and that France’s latest evictions are contrary to Hollande’s pledge in April to abolish discriminatory measures against Roma populations.
“Hollande’s promises to end discrimination against Roma couldn’t ring more hollow in the wake of this week’s events,” Szente Goldston said in a statement.
HRW says France’s 2011 immigration law specifically targets eastern European Roma and lists, as grounds for expulsion, repeated short stays and the intent to benefit from its social welfare system.
The rights group claim authorities are evicting the Roma on the “mere presumption” that they could eventually receive the social benefits.
Some people have questioned whether or not the returns are voluntary.
The Budapest-based European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC), an organisation that monitors the rights of Roma, said in a statement that the “repatriations are carried out following forced evictions, under situations of high stress for individuals and communities, and as such cannot be considered voluntary".
A similar campaign to expel the Roma to Romania and Bulgaria in 2010 under Nicolas Sarkozy led to a diplomatic row with Brussels once it was revealed that the French were officially targeting the ethnic group.
"Discrimination on the basis of ethnic origin or race has no place in Europe," said EU justice commissioner Viviane Reding at the time.
Nearly 10,000 were removed from the territory in a campaign that started in August 2010, according to the ERRC. The human rights watchdog, the Council of Europe, later noted that the voluntary returns amounted to forced collective expulsion.
For its part, the European Commission said it is closely monitoring the evictions and has requested further information from the French authorities to ensure they are complying to EU rules.