France threatens to break up Roma camps

France threatens to break up Roma camps
Photo: DarkB4Dawn/Flickr
French Interior Minister Manuel Valls threatened to dismantle illegal Roma camps on Thursday, raising the spectre of controversial expulsions and prompting expressions of concern from rights groups.
"It's not the Grenoble speech, but Manuel Valls's statements are still worrying," said Saimir Mile, the head of the Voice of the Roma group, referring to a 2010 speech by then-president Nicolas Sarkozy that was followed by a wave of Roma expulsions.
Speaking before the French Senate on Wednesday, Valls said the government was concerned about growing Roma encampments in several cities.
"The situation today in Lyon, in Aix-en-Provence and in Seine-Saint-Denis (just northeast of Paris) requires us to take decisions to dismantle," he said.
In Seine-Saint-Denis in particular, Valls said, there is "a confrontational situation" between the Roma community and local residents.
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.
Rights groups said the community recognises that the encampments are a problem but urged authorities not to forcefully dismantle them.
"We don't deny there are problems," said Malik Salemkour, the vice president of France's Human Rights League. "There can be violence, or dual economies, but it is not enough to deal with this only in terms of security."
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 Sarkozy announced a crackdown in the speech in Grenoble.
The European Union's justice chief, Viviane Reding, angered Sarkozy at the time 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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