[lg policy] France: Sarkozy Toughens on Illegal Roma

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at GMAIL.COM
Thu Jul 29 20:14:41 UTC 2010

Sarkozy Toughens on Illegal Roma

Published: July 29, 2010

PARIS — President Nicolas Sarkozy has ordered the expulsion of illegal
Roma and itinerant immigrants and the dismantlement of their camps in
a move that has been labeled by human rights groups as xenophobic and
criticized by his political opponents. After a meeting late Wednesday,
Mr. Sarkozy ordered the expulsion of Roma, with generational roots in
Romania and Bulgaria, who had committed public-order offenses and said
that illegal camps would be taken down. The Élysée Palace said
legislation would be introduced before the end of the year to
facilitate the process “for reasons of public order.”

Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux said Thursday on RTL radio that over
the next three months he would use decrees to dismantle about 300
illegal camps, of which 200 belong to Roma. These camps are the source
of “illicit trafficking, children exploited for begging, prostitution
or delinquency,” he said. Those in France illegally or who have
committed public-order offenses will be sent “almost immediately” back
to their countries of origin without the possibility of returning, Mr.
Hortefeux said, promising the use of digital fingerprinting technology
to ensure this end. He said the government was not stigmatizing the
Roma, also referred to as Gypsies, but rather responding to concerns
about public safety.

The move follows several recent incidents that have alarmed the
population about public security. This month, there was rioting in a
suburb of Grenoble, in southeastern France, after the death of a local
man as he fled the police, allegedly after holding up a casino. There
was also violence in the small town of Saint-Aignan, in the Loire
Valley, after Roma attacked a police station following an incident in
which a gendarme shot and killed a traveler who had driven through a
checkpoint. As interior minister under President Jacques Chirac, Mr.
Sarkozy had a reputation for talking and acting tough against
delinquency. In 2005, as he sought to counter an explosion of youth
violence in the suburbs, Mr. Sarkozy fueled anger by referring to the
culture of “racaille,” a derogatory term variously translated into
English as “scum,” “thugs,” “rabble,” “scoundrels,” “lowlife” and

But Mr. Sarkozy emerged from that episode with polls showing he took
the right approach in putting down the unrest. Now, confronted by
stubbornly high unemployment and pushing tricky financial and social
reforms, Mr. Sarkozy faces declining popularity in opinion polls and
an election in 2012 against a strengthening Socialist Party.
La Ligue des Droits de l’Homme, a rights group, said the steps would
“reinforce negative repressive measures.” The government is “mixing up
the situation of the European Roma with the travelers who have French
nationality” and, “as a result of a few cases, developing the idea
that there is an ethnic solution to the problem of delinquency.”

Amnesty International estimates that there are 400,000 itinerants or
travelers with French nationality, and 20,000 Roma, in the country.
They are mainly more recent immigrants with roots in Central and
Eastern Europe.  The crackdown on travelers is not in itself new.
Since last year, a number of camps have been dismantled. In October
2009, 200 to 300 Roma were expelled by riot police officers from their
camp north of Paris on the orders of a judge. Mr. Hortefeux, the
interior minister, said 9,875 Romanian and Bulgarian Roma were
expelled from France last year.

Communes with more than 5,000 inhabitants are obliged by law to set
aside areas for travelers. According to Amnesty International, fewer
than half of them actually do so. As a result, many travelers set up
illegal camps, usually on scrub or waste land on the outskirts of
towns. Such camps are a common sight in small towns in the Paris
region and beyond. According to advocacy groups, many legitimate
travelers already suffered discrimination before this latest
crackdown, for example regularly having to present themselves at
police stations, facing steps to deny them their voting rights and
having difficultly educating their children.

Compounding the sense of discrimination, representatives of French
Roma said that they were not invited to the presidential meeting
Wednesday. Throughout Europe, Roma were persecuted by the Nazis during
World War II, with many rounded up and sent to concentration camps.
The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum estimates that 200,000 were killed
in this way; some estimates are many times higher. Romania has an
estimated one million Roma, the most of any other European country.

Bulgaria and Romania joined the European Union in 2007, enshrining
free movement of people. But citizens from Bulgaria and Romania are
subject to transitional provisions in France, requiring them to obtain
a permit in order to work in certain professions. Romania’s prime
minister, Emil Boc, said Thursday that all European countries had a
“common obligation” toward the millions of Roma on the Continent, The
Associated Press reported.

Mr. Sarkozy also proposed that France bring in Romanian and Bulgarian
police officers to work in the Paris region and send the French police
to Romania and Bulgaria to help fight trafficking and other crime by
Roma. Pouria Amirshari, the Socialists’ national secretary for human
rights, told the Nouvel Observateur that the president was “following
a xenophobic logic.” He described Mr, Sarkozy’s intervention as
“populist and demagogic.”



 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com


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