There will be demonstrations throughout Europe tomorrow (September 4) against the French government’s expulsion of Roma (gypsies).
The European Network Against Racism (ENAR) and civic and human rights organisations in various European countries have organised the demonstrations. There will be nationwide demonstrations in France in support of the Roma, and against the French government’s stance on immigration and security. In other European countries, such as Belgium, Cyprus and Hungary, demonstrators will gather in front of French embassies.
ENAR described the French government’s policies as xenophobic. “President Sarkozy’s populist, discriminatory discourse makes scandalous amalgams between Travellers, Roma immigrants, migration and violent crimes. This rhetoric risks reinforcing prejudice and discriminatory perceptions against this ethnic group that is already the most discriminated against in the EU, as well as immigrants as a whole.”
The network has called on the EU and its member states to “ensure the integration of Roma in Europe in a coordinated and inclusive manner”. It said a comprehensive EU Roma strategy should ensure that Roma are protected from discrimination, have equal access to education, employment, healthcare, and housing, and are empowered through participation in the civic and economic life of their country.
Saturday’s protests are being supported by Médecins du Monde (Doctors of the World). The organisation condemned the stigmatisation of the Roma people and the way their already difficult living conditions were being aggravated by the repressive policies of the French government. “According to our teams in the field, these repeated expulsions are aggravating the living conditions and health of Roma and are making medical follow-up of Roma, and Roma children in particular, increasingly difficult.
Médecins du Monde said it didn’t usually demonstrate alongside trades unions and political parties, but had decided to take part in Saturday’s protests because of the radical nature of the government’s action, and the impact on populations it looks after.
A UN committee has urged France to “avoid” the collective repatriations of Roma and called for lasting solutions based on the complete respect of Roma human rights.
The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) said members of the Roma community weren’t receiving full voting, education, and housing rights in France. It said it was concerned about “discriminatory” political speeches in France and worried about the rise in racist violence against Roma there.
In recent weeks, more than 100 Roma camps have been dismantled and some 1,000 Roma expelled to Romania and Bulgaria. The French government says that most of them left voluntarily, having accepted €300 per adult in resettlement benefit (and €100 for each child), yet those who decline are being expelled. (More than 8,000 Roma have been expelled from France this year.)
President Nicolas Sarkozy is facing increasing opposition over the expulsions, including dissent within his own party. Foreign minister Bernard Kouchner considered resigning over the expulsions, defence minister Hervé Morin said the government’s anti-Roma rhetoric was based on hatred, fear, and scapegoating, and housing minister Fadela Amara said she did not support the repression of the Roma population. Even Prime Minister Francois Fillon admitted there was a “malaise” within the government over the handling of the Roma issue and the way in which the policy had been presented by some people.
Former prime minister Dominique de Villepin said President Sarkozy’s actions had stained the French flag. The opposition Socialist leader Martine Aubry called the policies shameful.
The Roma people have faced decades of persecution and discrimination. During World War II, hundreds of thousands of them perished in the Nazi concentration camps. There are between 10 million and 12 million Roma living in Europe and an estimated 15,000 of them are in France. They are the largest and poorest ethnic minority in Europe.
As EU citizens, the Roma from Bulgaria and Romania have the right to circulate within the EU. However, transitory measures adopted by several EU states, including France, restrict their access to work and residence rights until 2014.