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Pro-Roma NGOs demand resignation of Romanian Foreign Minister

24 February 2010

A group of Romanian organisations are demanding the resignation of the Romanian Foreign Minister after accusing him of making racist comments about Roma in a meeting with a French government official.

According to a translation by the NGOs of an official press statement on the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, when referring to Romanian migrants in France, Foreign Minister Teodor Baconschi said, “We have some natural, physiological problems, of criminality within some of the Romanian communities, especially among the communities of the Romanian citizens of Roma ethnicity.”

Minority Rights Group International (MRG) is concerned that Romanian government officials reportedly made statements that link criminality to an ethnic group.

“These comments endanger social inclusion of Roma in both France and Romania and further encourage intolerance against Europe’s largest minority,” says Neil Clarke, MRG’s Head of Europe and Central Asia Programmes.

Baconschi rejected accusations of racism but admitted that his choice of words failed to convey the intended message. His comments were later removed from the government website.

Baconschi also reiterated the Ministry’s support towards the Roma, but his suggestion of a closed-door meeting with the pro-Roma NGOs was rejected by them in favour of an open meeting with the press in attendance.

French State Secretary Pierre Lellouche met with the Romanian government on 11 February to discuss issues related to Romanian immigrants in France. Romania has the largest Roma community in Europe, estimated at between 1.8 million and 2.5 million, many living in deplorable conditions. According to estimates, there are some 20,000-30,000 Roma of Romanian origin living in France, many of them in very rudimentary camps on the outskirts of towns.

A recent report of the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) on France says that residents of these camps, particularly children, are subject to serious health issues. Collective evictions can take place without any satisfactory housing alternative.

France has a programme which pays money to repatriate Roma to Romania, but ECRI’s report says conditions which initially spur Roma to leave Romania have seen little improvement.