France Deports Gypsies: Courting the Xenophobes?

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France Deports Gypsies: Courting the Xenophobes?

Post#1 » Fri Sep 10, 2010 6:10 pm

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France Deports Gypsies: Courting the Xenophobes?
By Bruce Crumley / Paris Thursday, Aug. 19, 2010

A Roma woman, Georgineta, says goodbye to her grandson before boarding a flight to Romania at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris on Aug. 19, 2010
Gonzalo Fuentes / Reuters ... 48,00.html

France has begun the first deportations of 700 members of the Roma Gypsy minority, to Romania and Bulgaria, as part of its controversial crackdown on communities officials hold responsible for criminal activity. The expulsions are set to be completed by the end of the month. Also affected by the law-and-order push are the nomadic "travelers" group the Roma are a subset of; delinquents and their families in France's troubled suburban housing projects; and human traffickers and the illegal immigrants they smuggle into France. But the highly publicized targeting of Roma in particular has been criticized by opposition politicians as a cynical move by the conservative government of President Nicolas Sarkozy to seduce hard-right voters in the long march toward the President's 2012 re-election bid. It's also raising alarms from Romanian and European Union officials that France's drive may be fanning xenophobia and impinging on the rights of fellow E.U. citizens. Romania has been a member of the E.U. since 2007.

An initial flight took 79 Roma to their Romanian homeland on Thursday, with at least 292 additional deportations scheduled to take place over the next week. Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux said 51 illegal camps inhabited by migrant Roma had been raided and broken up by police since late July. Apart from the 700 Roma from those camps to be expelled by the end of August, thousands more will follow as Hortefeux presses ahead with the dismantling of half of the 600 illegal camps in the next three months. Sarkozy embarked on the action on July 21, less than a week after youths from one of the transient communities ran amok in Saint-Aignan, south of Blois, to protest the alleged killing of one of their peers by police. (See pictures of migrants being expelled from France.)

Opposition politicians and human-rights organizations have widely condemned the operation as abusive and racist, saying the Roma have too often been Europe's scapegoats. Other observers pointed out that the itinerant people involved in the Saint-Aignan violence weren't Roma but part of the far larger travelers communities, whose members are virtually all French citizens. Critics have said the more narrow focus on Roma is an effort by Sarkozy's government to divert attention from dismal approval ratings and the scandals that have dogged it for months. Even members of Sarkozy's ruling majority have expressed concerns over the moves. Parliamentarian Jean-Pierre Grand recently lamented what he called the rafles of Roma — a term used to refer to the notorious roundups of Jews during the Nazi occupation of France.

Despite the criticism, government officials moved ahead with the plan, which included not just Thursday's deportations but also a raid on a new Roma camp in southeastern France. Such high-profile strutting is getting a little harder to do, however. On Aug. 18, the E.U. Commission for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship reminded France of the "freedom of movement for E.U. citizens." It also warned that it would be watching France closely to make sure due process and the rights of European Roma were being respected. (See more on E.U. nations stoking fears of an immigrant flood.)

Around the same time, Romanian Foreign Minister Teodor Baconschi stepped into the fray, advising Paris not to use Roma as scapegoats for political advantage. "I am worried about the risks of populism and xenophobic reactions," Baconschi told Radio France International. He isn't the only one. Last week, a U.N. human-rights report decried what it called "a notable resurgence in racism and xenophobia" in France. It cited repeated French government initiatives that stigmatize foreigners and minorities — including a national debate on French identity and the anti-Roma drive — as contributing factors.

But Paris is on firm legal ground: it requires Romanian and Bulgarian citizens to obtain resident permits for stays of more than three months under the seven-year transition conditions set when both nations joined the E.U. in 2007. (Most Roma wouldn't meet the residency requirement of stable employment.) Meanwhile, France also manages to get the Roma to return home "voluntarily": deportees receive a payment of $386 per adult and $129 per child if they leave. Such sums, Paris says, are to allow impoverished Roma to set up a viable life at home — and stay there.(See pictures of Paris expanding.)

How, then, might opponents force Sarkozy to alter his anti-Roma drive? Perhaps by pointing out that despite the attention Sarkozy is drawing to the operation, his latest push is not new — nor does it work. Last year alone, around 10,000 Roma — or two-thirds of their estimated population in France — were deported, most with French taxpayer money in their pockets. Virtually all returned to France weeks later, according to international Roma organizations. Also, prior to Thursday's deportations, 25 similar flights returned Roma to Bulgaria and Romania since January. The total for 2009 was 44 flights. Meaning, there's nothing new to the current French expulsion of Roma except the shouting — and a crass calculation to win votes through xenophobia.

See more on critics' anger as Nicolas Sarkozy targets Roma.

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A Defiant France Steps Up Deportation of Roma

Post#2 » Fri Sep 10, 2010 6:11 pm

A Defiant France Steps Up Deportation of Roma

By Bruce Crumley / Paris Wednesday, Sep. 01, 2010

A woman and children sit next to luggage in Bucharest, Romania, after arriving from France with a group of about 300 Roma
Vadim Ghirda / AP ... 89,00.html

France's expulsion campaign of Roma has drawn a deluge of criticism at home and abroad, and even opened up fissures within the government and ruling conservative majority. Yet President Nicolas Sarkozy and his closest lieutenants are striking an increasingly defiant tone in response to the outcry. Cabinet members now want to expand the list of infractions for which the Roma Gypsy minority can be forcibly expelled from France — and are busy placing blame on Romania as the ultimate cause of the controversy engulfing Paris.

On Tuesday, French Secretary of State for European Affairs Pierre Lellouche and Immigration and Integration Minister Eric Besson traveled to Brussels to defend France's high-profile campaign of dismantling itinerants' camps and expelling the Roma living in France without residence permits. They met with European Union commissioners who have expressed concerns that those efforts may violate human-rights statutes guaranteeing the freedom of movement of E.U. citizens — a status conferred on all Romanians and Bulgarians during the E.U.'s 2007 enlargement. France's defiant attitude became apparent when Lellouche shifted the blame for its Roma predicament to Romania. Although Bucharest receives $5 billion in annual E.U. subsidies, Lellouche's argument goes, it spends only 0.4% of that on integrating the nation's Roma minority (a population officially pegged at 535,000 but which some experts believe exceeds 2 million). He has suggested postponing eventual Romania and Bulgaria membership to the passport-free Schengen area if both nations don't improve their efforts to integrate Roma and more effectively monitor Roma migration elsewhere in the E.U. (See pictures of France cracking down on migrants.)

During the Brussels talks, Besson refuted allegations previously aired by E.U. critics that France's campaign was racially discriminatory in targeting a single minority: Roma. He also dismissed claims that Paris was conducting systematic deportation, noting that the authorities assessed the case of each detained Roma individually. And he maintained that most deportees left "voluntarily": the majority accepted cash payments ($386 per adult, $129 per child) not to fight obligatory expulsion. It's unclear whether that defense allayed the apprehensions of E.U. officials.

"Nobody should face expulsion just for being Roma," said Viviane Reding, E.U. commissioner on human rights. "Some of the rhetoric that has been used in some member states in the past weeks has been openly discriminatory and partly inflammatory." (See "Who Are Gypsies, and Why Is France Deporting Them?")

The day before his Brussels visit, Besson responded to criticism by proposing legislation to make "aggressive begging" by foreigners a deportable offense — a move clearly targeting impoverished Roma. Not to be outdone, Besson's Cabinet partner Brice Hortefeux, the Interior Minister, claimed that criminal acts by Roma in Paris had risen 259% in the past 18 months and flatly declared, "The reality is, the author of one theft in five is Romanian." That tough talk from government members sought to counter the growing chorus of condemnation of the government campaign that has sent 8,313 Roma back to Romania or Bulgaria in the first eight months of the year. It's only accelerating: 283 deportations occurred last week alone.

That swagger by Team Sarko is intended to not only rebuff protests by French and international opponents but also divert attention from the serious dissent the anti-Roma push has created within the ruling right — and within the government itself. On Aug. 30, Foreign Affairs Minister Bernard Kouchner admitted that he considered resigning his post at seeing "Roma, in particular, mistreated and exploited." At least two other Cabinet members have also expressed unease with a campaign that many pundits say aims to win over extreme-right voters ahead of the 2012 presidential election. (See "France Deports Gypsies: Courting the Xenophobes?")

Former conservative Prime Ministers and rightist heavyweights Alain Juppé and Jean-Pierre Raffarin have similarly warned Sarkozy that continuing to stigmatize French minorities, foreigners or Roma in particular may fuel xenophobia. And those are Sarkozy allies. Former Premier Dominique de Villepin, a staunch Sarkozy foe, described the government's push as "a stain of shame on our flag" and "a collective fault committed in all our names, against the republic and against France." (See "Anger as Sarkozy Targets Roma in Crime Crackdown.")

Those voices followed calls from French dignitaries, church officials and even the Vatican to halt Roma expulsions. A United Nations committee on racial discrimination went even further, saying the campaign was only the latest manifestation in a wider surge of racism and xenophobia in France. However, despite that near universal condemnation, Sarkozy apparently feels that with his approval ratings at record lows — and with an autumn of continuing scandals and reform protest approaching — any surrender on Roma now risks inspiring a series of challenges and defeats that could snowball right into his 2012 re-election bid.

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