Agence France Presse
Thursday 9 August 2012
Last Update 9 August 2012 1:17 pm
LILLE, France: French authorities on Thursday expelled several hundred Roma from encampments in the north, raising fears of a return to controversial policies championed by former president Nicolas Sarkozy.
The evacuations, along with expulsions of Roma to Romania by plane, came after Socialist President Francois Hollande’s interior minister, Manuel Valls, last month voiced concern about growing Roma encampments in several cities.
France drew a chorus of criticism in 2010 for rounding up hundreds of Roma immigrants from illegal camps and sending them back to Romania and Bulgaria after right-wing Sarkozy announced a crackdown.
Two Roma encampments on state land near the northern city of Lille were evacuated on Thursday, with around 200 people expelled from one camp and “15 caravans” from another, said Villeneuve d’Ascq deputy mayor Maryvonne Girard.
Police motorcycles accompanied the Roma on the road after they were expelled without resistance.
“What’s inconceivable for us is that people are thrown out without being told where they can go. We expected better after President Hollande’s words,” said Roseline Tiset of the Human Rights League.
She said that during the presidential campaign earlier this year, Hollande wrote to Roma rights groups saying that under his government “when an unsanitary camp is dismantled, alternatives will be offered.”
Father Arthur, a priest who defends Roma rights and had planned to baptise six Roma children on Thursday afternoon, said he felt “deceived.”
“We will meet to see what we can do but for now we have nothing. At least the last president had the honesty of saying what was going to happen,” Arthur said.
Yann Lafolie, who heads the Solidarity Workshop, said he was angry.
“Many children will sleep on the street tonight,” he said.
French authorities were meanwhile due to send around 240 Roma back to Romania aboard a flight from the southeastern city of Lyon, the biggest such expulsion since Hollande took office in May.
France gives Roma returning voluntarily 300 euros ($370) for an adult and 150 euros for a child.
Aid group Medecins du Monde said that around 200 Roma had left their encampments in the Lyon area in recent days, fearing being expelled, with further expulsions expected in the coming days.
About 15,000 Roma are believed to live in improvised housing encampments on the edges of major cities in France, including up to 4,000 in the Paris area.
The European Union’s justice commissioner, Viviane Reding, angered Sarkozy when he launched his wave of expulsions by comparing the rounding up to World War II-era deportations.
Paris insisted there was nothing racist in the moves against the Roma, saying they were rounded up simply because they had overstayed the period they were allowed in France without any visible means of financial support.
French officials also insisted the round-ups were legal under EU laws on freedom of movement, saying the Roma were leaving voluntarily in return for payments.
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