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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