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BULGARIA

Roma expelled from Paris camp

French police on Monday dismantled a Roma camp near Paris, sweeping more than 70 people out just days after the government promised a less confrontational approach to the ethnic minority migrants.

Police in the suburb of Evry moved in at dawn to clear the camp following an expulsion order issued by local mayor Francis Chouat on safety and public health grounds, pre-empting by 24 hours a court hearing on the camp's future.

The government pledged last week that it would seek court orders for clearances but that requirement was over-ridden by the mayor's ruling that the camp's proximity to a commuter rail line made it dangerous.

Interior Minister Manuel Valls, who has sanctioned the clearance of several Roma camps since the new Socialist government came to power, backed the move, describing sanitary conditions in the Evry settlement as "unbearable."

But the police sweep was denounced as "scandalous" by Catholic Bishop Jacques Gaillot.

"If you're going to kick people out, you have to know what you're going to do with them," he said. "That wasn't the case here. It's a disgrace."   

An estimated 15,000 ethnic Roma live in camps like the Evry one across France and their presence, almost invariably the subject of hostility from local residents, has become a major political headache for the Socialists.

Valls has continued the previous administration's approach of periodically dismantling camps and offering free flights and financial incentives for Roma to return to their countries of origin.

But the policy, decried as reminiscent of Nazi-era persecution when it was launched by former president Nicolas Sarkozy in 2010, has had little impact on overall numbers and Valls has come under fire from some of his own colleagues, human rights groups and the European Commission.

The government moved last week to appease its critics by announcing that it would ease restrictions on Bulgarian and Romanian migrants' access to the jobs market.

It also said clearances would only be carried out on the basis of court orders and ideally with a plan for alternative accommodation having been established first.

That was not the case in Evry, where the expelled Roma trudged wearily from a site that has been their home for several months, their possessions stuffed into cases and plastic bags or piled up on prams.

"The police arrived at 5:00 am," said Lakatos, a 22-year-old who has been in France for three years and had lived in the camp for the last three months. "I've no idea where we are going to go."

Serge Guichard, who works for a Roma support group, said: "The only people that have come to see them are the police. There were 19 kids in this camp, all of them were going to school. Now they risk ending up on the streets."

Even the Socialist mayor's own deputy, Hervé Pérard, questioned whether the expulsion was necessary.

"I don't understand why we did not wait for the court hearing. I don't understand why it was so urgent," said Perard, a member of the Greens, the Socialists' minority partners in government.

Valls meanwhile announced that he and European Affairs Minister Bernard Cazeneuve would be visiting Romania in September for talks on the Roma issue.

The interior minister believes France is paying the price for Romania's failure to address centuries of discrimination against the Roma.

"I want to understand why strong integration policies are not being implemented in the countries of origin," Valls said.

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ROMA

Roma in France seek protection after attacks sparked by fake child snatching rumours

Ethnic Roma leaders called for round-the-clock police protection on Wednesday after a series of vigilante attacks in Paris sparked by false reports of attempted kidnappings.

Roma in France seek protection after attacks sparked by fake child snatching rumours
Police have renewed their calls on Twitter not to relay the abduction claims. Photo: AFP

Police arrested 20 people following attacks on Monday night on Roma people in suburbs northeast of Paris following false rumours spread on messaging apps and social media warning of abductions.

“We are calling today on the interior ministry… for immediate protection by way of round-the-clock police presence,” Anina Ciucin, a lawyer and spokesperson for The Voice of Roma group told RMC radio.

She said the reports were “a revival of the medieval stereotype” of Roma in which “gypsies are likened to thieves and child-catchers.”

The attacks appeared to have been sparked by the re-emergence of a long-standing online hoax that has circulated in France for years in which people warn of a white van being used in attempted kidnappings of young women or children.

Police have renewed their calls on Twitter not to relay the claims and have confirmed that there have been no reports of kidnappings in the area.

A Roma camp in 2017 built on an abandoned railway line in northern Paris. Photo: AFP

Government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux termed the attacks “unacceptable”, adding that this showed “the absolute need to fight 'fake news'”.

“Spreading such rumours in a highly organised and viral way on social media results in violence (and) the stigmatisation of a community,” he said, calling the process “detestable”.

READ ALSO: Paris: Fake rumours of 'white-van' child-snatchers spark attacks on Roma people

In one attack on Monday night in the suburb of Bobigny, some 50 people armed with sticks and knives set upon Roma living in a nearby slum, setting fire to their parked vans.

“Since then we're constantly scared,” said Georghe Marcus, one of around 150 Roma from Romania, Serbia and Moldova who live in wasteland next to a canal.

“We're not sleeping because we're keeping guard all night.”

Roma people were also chased in the Paris suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois and had to seek refuge in a supermarket to escape violence, according to Ciucin and judicial sources who spoke to AFP on condition of anonymity.

 Tensions

On March 16, a gang of around 20 young people attacked two people in a white van in the Paris suburb of Colombes, leaving both with light injuries, police said.

Many rumours appear to have been spread on the Snapchat messaging service, as well as on Facebook where posts from people claiming their children or family members had been approached by strangers or abducted have been widely shared.

In December, police in the town of Versailles, west of Paris, issued a warning about abduction rumours carried online.

Police reminded social media users that under French law spreading a false rumour could be punished with fines of 45,000 to 135,000 euros.

Tens of thousands of Roma people have lived in France for centuries, but a fresh influx of some 20,000 people, mainly from Romania and Bulgaria, since the 1980s has led to the creation of new slums and increased tensions, according to a 2017 study by the government-sponsored National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS).

Successive French governments have sought to dismantle the slums and repatriate recently arrived Roma who, while allowed to travel freely in Europe, are not eligible to apply for jobs in France unless they meet certain qualifications.

Between 10 and 12 million Roma people, also known as Roms, live in Europe, of whom six million are within European Union borders, according to the Council of Europe human rights group.

 
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