France raids Roma, raising fears
Roma families push shopping carts with their belongings as they are evicted from an illegal camp in Villeneuve d’Ascq. French police evacuated some 150 people who resided in an illegal camp of travelling people and Roma in northern France.
French authorities yesterday expelled several hundred Roma from encampments in the north of the country, raising fears of a return to controversial policies championed by former president Nicolas Sarkozy.
The evacuations, along with expulsions of Roma to Romania by plane, came after Socialist President Francois Hollande’s interior minister, Manuel Valls, voiced concern about growing Roma encampments in several cities. France drew a chorus of criticism in 2010 for rounding up hundreds of Roma immigrants from illegal camps and sending them back to Romania and Bulgaria after right-wing Sarkozy announced a crackdown.
France, under Sarkozy, came under heated European Union criticism in 2010 for expelling more than 1,000 illegal Roma immigrants, a move seen as targeting an ethnic group. Action against Roma is now a sensitive issue. Two Roma encampments on state land near the northern city of Lille were evacuated yesterday, with around 200 people expelled from one camp and “15 caravans” from another, said Villeneuve d’Ascq Deputy Mayor Maryvonne Girard, according to Agence France-Presse.
Valls, who has cultivated a ‘tough on crime’ image, defended the raids as legal and necessary due to the health risks of hundreds of people living in makeshift accommodation.
Roma camps challenge to community life: Minister
“Unsanitary camps are unacceptable,” he said in a statement on Aug. 8. “Often located in the midst of working-class neighborhoods, they are also a challenge to community life.”
Police motorcycles accompanied the Roma on the road after they were expelled without resistance.
Frederic Rose, of the Paris police department, said French social workers went to the camp ahead of the officers’ arrival to tell them the settlement on public property was illegal and would be removed, The Associated Press reported. Rose said it was the largest of several camps of Gypsies, or Roma, in Paris.
Rights groups said no arrangements for temporary housing had been made for the group of Roma near Lille, which includes some 60 children. “What’s inconceivable for us is that people are thrown out without being told where they can go. We expected better after President Hollande’s words,” said Roseline Tiset of the Human Rights League. She said that during the presidential campaign earlier this year, Hollande wrote to Roma rights groups saying that under his government “when an unsanitary camp is dismantled, alternatives will be offered.”
240 Roma in Lyon set to be deported
French authorities were meanwhile due to send around 240 Roma back to Romania aboard a flight from the southeastern city of Lyon, the biggest such expulsion since Hollande took office in May. France gives Roma returning voluntarily 300 euros for an adult and 150 euros for a child. Aid group Medecins du Monde said that around 200 Roma had left their encampments in the Lyon area in recent days, fearing being expelled, with further expulsions expected in the coming days. An estimated 15-20,000 Roma live in France. There are some 12 million Roma living in Eastern Europe, particularly in Romania, Bulgaria, Slovakia and Hungary.
Clashes took place between Roma and ethnic Bulgarians in Bulgaria in late 2011. The death of a Bulgarian teenager sparked clashes between Roma and Bulgarians in the village of Katunitsa, east of Sofia. Later, Roma clan leader Kiril Rashkov reportedly made death threats during a confrontation with villagers, which stirred the Balkan country’s biggest-ever anti-Roma rallies early this year. Thousands rallied against the Roma minority.