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ROMANIA

Romania vows ‘total cooperation’ on Roma

Romania will provide "total cooperation" with France in its effort to deal with Roma migrants, President Train Basescu told visiting French ministers Wednesday.

"On the Roma problem, I assure you we are open to total cooperation, including sending police reinforcements to France," Basescu said as he welcomed Interior Minister Manuel Valls and Europe Minister Bernard Cazeneuve.

"But we cannot accept phrases like Romania 'persecutes' ethnic Roma populations," the president added, alluding to remarks made by Valls. "Romania does not persecute any citizen from its territory."

On Tuesday, Valls said France "cannot welcome all the misery of the world and of Europe.

"Today, we cannot 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 has already sent police officers to help their French colleagues dismantle Romanian criminal networks operating in France.   

But the French policy of closing migrant camps and repatriating the Roma with a €300 incentive has been widely criticised. Critics have said the money Paris will give the Roma to return home will be used by them to buy bus tickets back to France.

And the visit by the French ministers 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.

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, Valls insisted, 7,000 Romanians and Bulgarians would be sent back to their home countries.

But Roma rights groups in France and Romania lashed at the French policy on Wednesday.

"Today, the French governement is at the forefront when it comes to persecuting an ethnic group" often living in very poor conditions, Romani Criss, the main Roma rights group in Romania said in an open letter written with eight other groups that was addressed to Valls.

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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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