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French Socialists ramp up Roma evictions

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Members of the Roma community in the French city of Marseilles, in October 2012. Photo: Boris Horvat/AFP
18:54 CET+01:00
France evicted almost 12,000 ethnic Roma from makeshift camps across the country in 2012, with two thirds of that total coming in the second half of the year, after the Socialist Party came to power.

At least 11,803 people were moved out of camps in 2012, 80 percent of them forcibly, according to a report by the European Association for the Defence of Human Rights (AEDH).

The acceleration of camp clearances reflects the hardline policy instituted by Socialist Interior Minister Manuel Valls, which has been strongly criticized by the United Nation's human rights arm and other watchdogs.

"This is incredibly worrying and very disappointing given that François Hollande made a pre-election pledge to change the way the Roma were being dealt with in France," Victoria Vasey from the European Roma Rights Centre told The Local. "But it just looks like business as usual."

"France should be working on projects to ensure that the Roma who exercise their right to travel within the EU can integrate in France."

Theoretically clearances should not take place without a rehousing plan having been put in place first, but the AEDH found that had been the case in only 15 out of 63 clearances undertaken since July.

In August, the UN's Special Rapporteurs on minority issues, migrants, housing and racism warned France it was in danger of breaching its commitments under international human rights conventions with its treatment of Roma.

French authorities justify forced evictions on the grounds that the often squalid camps represent a threat to the health of their inhabitants and, when they are located near roads or rail lines, can be dangerous.

Earlier this month it emerged a group of Roma children were being taught in a police station near Lyon after being turned away by local schools.

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An estimated 15,000 to 20,000 Roma live in makeshift camps across France. Efforts to move them back to Bulgaria and Romania with a combination of free flights and financial incentives have largely failed.

Repatriated Roma can easily return to France under European Union freedom of movement rules and rights groups say they face systematic discrimination in their countries of origin, as they have done for centuries.

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