30th Jul 2021

French expulsions row doing nothing to help the Roma

  • Roma children in Kosovo have a tougher future ahead than Romanian-born ones (Photo: Council of Europe)

Despite a highly pubicised row between Paris and Brussels, Roma adults and children continue to be deported from France, with human rights champions voicing concern about the missed opportunity to actually do something for the minority.

"I note the new policies of France towards the Roma, including the dismantling of their settlements and collective deportations to their country of origin," Navi Pillay, the United Nation's human rights chief said on Sunday (19 September) in Geneva.

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"This can only exacerbate the stigmatization of Roma and the extreme poverty in which they live. I urge European states, including France, to adopt policies enabling Roma people to overcome their marginalization."

So-called "voluntary" repatriations from France continued last week, even as President Nicolas Sarkozy prominently escalated his row with the European Commission during a summit of EU leaders, denouncing as an "insult" one EU commissioner's having comparison of his policy to that of the Nazi regime which exterminated hundreds of thousand of Roma during World War II.

His party colleagues continued to play hardball over the weekend, with one French senator saying he wished Luxembourg "didn't exist," in reference to the home country of EU justice commissioner Viviane Reding, who last week threatened to take France to court and said she thought Europe would never again witness such "apalling" and "disgraceful" policies after the world war.

A similar comparison to Ms Reding's was made by Europe's human rights champion Thomas Hammerberg, from the Council of Europe.

"Discrimination against Roma communities in Europe has a long and bitter history. The repression came to a climax in the 1930-40s when they were targeted by fascist regimes in both Romania and Italy. In areas controlled by the German Nazis several hundred thousand Roma were rounded up and brought to concentration camps or executed directly. This genocide was not even an issue at the Nuremberg trial and the little compensation to the survivors or to the victims' family members came late, if at all," he said in a statement last week.

"Anti-Gypsyism has continued until this day and is now exploited by extremist groups in several European countries."

The escalating row between Paris and Brussels has divided member states, with Mr Sarkozy finding support among Europe's anti-immigration hardliners: Italy's Silvio Berlusconi and Hungary's extreme-right Jobbik party.

"I am with Sarkozy," Mr Berlusconi repeated during the week-end, after having voiced similar support during the EU summit in Brussels.

Meanwhile, Roma camps continue to be dismantled in the proximity of Milan, with Italian interior minister Roberto Maroni pushing for EU rules allowing EU citizens to be sent back after three months if they do not have enough money to support themselves.

Ten Romanian policemen are due to arrive in France on Monday on a mission to help their French colleagues in their Roma repatriation policy.

Romania, home to nearly 2 million Roma, and Bulgaria, with around 800,000, have the biggest Roma populations in the EU.

Unlike Romanian and Bulgarian Roma, who can travel freely and come back to France after being deported, non-EU Roma from Kosovo face a tougher reality when deported from countries like Germany. Under a deal agreed in April between Berlin and Pristina, 14,000 refugees are to be returned to Kosovo - 10,000 of them Roma.

In a bid to divert media attention from France, Mr Sarkozy last Thursday said that German chancellor Angela Merkel was also planning to clear Roma camps. Berlin later rejected the claim, saying its actions, which amount to repatriating some 2,500 Roma people a year, are not "mass deportations" but "gradual returns."

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