Lille Roma evictions slammed by campaigners

French police on Tuesday expelled 46 Roma, including 25 children, from a squat in central Lyon in a move denounced as unnecessary persecution by rights groups.

The move followed the dismantling last week of encampments on the outskirts of Lyon and around the northern city of Lille which were home to more than 250 Roma.

France's Socialist Government has pledged to move swiftly to break up Roma camps established without legal permission and to repatriate those who cannot support themselves on French territory.

The Socialists have effectively continued the much-criticised policy of former president Nicolas Sarkozy, albeit with less inflammatory rhetoric, and their stance has drawn criticism from their Green allies in government.

But a poll published on Tuesday indicated the Socialists' line enjoys overwhelming support (80 percent) amongst the electorate.

Voters are however almost equally as convinced (73 percent) that dismantling camps only shifts the problem elsewhere.

That issue was underlined by the case of the Lyon squatters, who were removed from their accommodation without local authorities having established what was to be done with them.

"This is really a case of Roma hunting," said Jean-Phillipe an activist who works to defend the rights of Roma in the Lyon area.

"The authorities cannot say this was an unsanitary camp. They were living in a building with running water and electricity and they got on well with their neighbours."

About 15,000 Roma are believed to live on camps in France. Most of them originate from Bulgaria and Romania and, under European Union freedom-of-movement rules, cannot be stopped from entering France.

Authorities can however repatriate them if they are deemed to be incapable of surviving without public support.

The European Commission said last week it was monitoring France's actions in relation to the Roma camps in order to ensure expulsions were not arbitrary or discriminatory.

Interior Minister Manuel Valls said there was no question of France applying a policy that "targeted or ostracised a whole community."

He added: "The response to this situation should come firstly from the countries of origin who have to assume their responsibility for integrating their minorities and ending discrimination against them."

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