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Wednesday, 18 August 2010

French expulsion of Roma to begin Thursday (France)

The deportation of Roma from France back to their countries of origin is to begin on Thursday the French government has announced.

With 51 Roma camps across the country now broken up over the past month and a further almost 250 to meet the same fate by October, some 700 Roma will be put on planes by the end of August

The first of Roma will leave France on Thursday when 79 are to be returned. Immigration minister Eric Besson said that the Roma involved had agreed to return of their own will, reports Le Monde. Adults receive €300 in cash for returning while €100 is given for children.

To prevent them coming back again and receiving return monies again, the French authorities are planning to take biometric data from those who are flown home.

Under EU rules, Roma are free to travel to France but have to prove they can support themselves in order to be allowed to stay longer than three months. Some 15,000 such Roma coming from central and eastern Europe, but predominantly Romania, are thought to be in France.

The destruction of camps is part of a wider security clampdown announced by French President Nicolas Sarkozy at the end of July. The move attracted immediate criticism from the left opposition but more recently also from politicians within the ranks of the president's centre-right UMP party.

"We are not stigmatising a community, but making people respect the law," interior minister Brice Hortefeux said justifying the moves on Tuesday (17 August).

The French authorities point out that last year some 10,000 Roma were deported from France to Bulgaria and Romania.
Mr Besson, for his part, acknowledged that some deportees might return and are allowed to "as it is the law" but they "cannot settle illegally, let alone receive assisted voluntary return."

He also hit back at criticism by a fellow UMP politician who likened the evacuation of the camps to World War II round-ups, saying he would rather such language is not used.

"People are interviewed, their identity is verified and we offer them money to go back to their country of origin," he told radio station RTL on Tuesday. "I would like someone to explain the connection with the round-ups of World War II."

Meanwhile Romania has expressed its concern about the potential problems arising from France's policy.

"I am concerned about the risks of this sliding into populism and generating certain xenophobic reaction against the backdrop of the economic crisis," foreign minister Teodor Baconschi said in an interview with RFI Romania.

"If we trade accusations or we collectively criminalise ethnic groups, we revive memories, among them less pleasant ones, and instead of finding solutions we will generate tensions," he added.

Two Romanian secretaries of state are due to travel to France on 30 August to discuss the integration of Roma and "how to prevent crimes."