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France’s decision to expel Roma is discriminatory, says MRG

24 August 2010

Minority Rights Group International (MRG) condemns France’s deportation of 79 EU Roma citizens on 19 August as discriminatory and calls on the French authorities to immediately suspend these strong measures.

The recent order of French President Nicolas Sarkozy to dismantle Roma camps and to expel EU citizens of Roma origin breaches the right to free movement within the European Union and criminalizes Roma people on account of their ethnicity, says the London-based human rights NGO.

Since Mr. Sarkozy’s crack-down on Roma on 28 July, French police have demolished 51 informal camps out of an estimated 300. Immigration Minister Eric Besson announced last week that the deportation of the affected 700 Roma residents will be completed by the end of September.

The second of two flights taking the Roma back to their countries of origin, Romania and Bulgaria, is scheduled for 26 August. Mr. Sarkozy also anticipated changes in the immigration legislation by the end of the year to facilitate the process of expelling Roma migrants ‘for reasons of public order’.

‘The deportation of 700 Roma people on the grounds of undocumented status or public security implies that France expels them on the basis of their ethnicity,’ says Lucy Claridge, MRG’s Head of Law. ‘It risks reinforcing the exclusion and discrimination faced by Roma communities and must be halted.’

According to EU laws, a Union citizen is entitled to move freely within the territory of the EU. There are exceptions when this right can be restricted, for example on the grounds of public security or public health, but these should not be imposed arbitrarily or collectively against a group of people.

‘It is outrageous how the French government implements EU law against destitute people,’ says Bekim Syla, the Director of the Roma and Ashkalia Documentation Centre in Pristina, Kosovo.

The French President’s measures were an immediate reaction to outbreaks of violence between police and Roma communities in two French towns following two fatal incidents. In Grenoble, a Roma man charged with holding up a casino was shot dead when he fled the police, whilst in Saint-Aignan, a gendarme fatally injured a French Traveller who drove through a checkpoint.

Such clamp-downs on Roma and Travellers’ camps are occuring in other EU countries.

Currently in the UK, nearly 90 families of Travellers are facing eviction from Dale Farm in Essex following a court ruling. Dale Farm is owned by a clan of Travellers but has been refused local planning permission. Tough police raids have also been announced in Copenhagen by Danish justice minister Lars Barfoed against Roma settling in the capital of Denmark for the summer. In October 2009, 200-300 Roma were expelled from their camp north of Paris.

France hosts around 15,000 Roma from Eastern Europe, especially Romania. At the same time, there are long-established nomadic Roma and French Traveller communities (termed gens du voyage) with French nationality and permits allowing them to move freely within the country. Despite an obligation since 1990 on larger towns, Roma and Traveller spokespeople state that the French authorities do not create an adequate number of sites for them to stop. As a result, Roma and Traveller communities are forced to set up unauthorised encampments and under current measures their camp sites can now easily be demolished.

Notes to the editor

Minority Rights Group International (MRG) is a non-governmental organization working to secure the rights of ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities and indigenous peoples worldwide.

For more information and to arrange interviews with:

  • Lucy Claridge, Head of Law, MRG
  • Bekim Syla, Director of the Roma and Ashkalia Documentation Centre, Pristina, Kosovo +38 138248680

Contact the MRG Press Office on [email protected].