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ROMANIA

Ministers in Romania for talks on Roma

Two French ministers were due in Romania Wednesday for talks with the government on its Roma community, after France controversially shut down travellers' camps on its own territory.

Interior Minister Manuel Valls will be accompanied by Europe Minister Bernard Cazeneuve for talks with President Traian Basescu, Prime Minister Victor Ponta and other officials.

Their visit comes two days after the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay expressed concern over France's recent forced closures of Roma camps in France.

French police late last month expelled hundreds of Roma from camps in the Paris suburb of Stains and elsewhere. Officials said the often squalid camps were a threat to the health and safety of their inhabitants.And on Tuesday, Valls said France "cannot welcome all the misery of the world and of Europe.

"Today, we can not afford to accommodate all these people who are often wretched of the earth, who are persecuted in their country, who are discriminated against," he added.

Romania, one of the two poorest countries in the European Union, has the biggest Roma minority in Europe: 620,000 according to the latest official census; more than two million according to local rights groups.

Many Roma have emigrated to escape the poverty in their country.

France hosts an estimated 15,000 Roma from Romania and Bulgaria – though that is far less than in Spain or Italy, according to figures gathered by the Soros Foundation.

By the end of the month, he insisted, 7,000 Romanians and Bulgarians would be sent back their home countries.

The solution, said Valls, would be found at a European level.

But France's policy of closing the camps and repatriating the Roma with a €300 incentive has been widely criticised.

Damian Draghici, a famous Roma musician who has become senior advisor to the Romanian premier, told AFP that the French handout could easily be used by Roma for a return bus ticket to France.

But Romania did have to improve its integration policies, he conceded.

"We have our part of responsibility. The task is huge in this poor country."

A Romanian foreign ministry statement to AFP said the government was "determined to talk in a constructive way about how the social inclusion of Roma could be improved.

Mircea Toma, a campaigner with the anti-discrimination group Active Watch, said perceptions were changing in Romania.

He cited a survey showing that 43 percent of the respondents said they were ready to accept a Rom as a member of their family; 10 years ago, the figure had stood at only 23 percent.

"I think everyone has a part to play if we want to change things: France, Romania, Europe", Draghici said.

In France meanwhile, Laurent El Ghozy, the co-founder of rights groups Romeurope, made it clear that the government in France was in no position to lecture Romania.

"France has no lessons to give to anyone so far as discrimination against the Roma is concerned."

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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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