Marseille residents set fire to Roma camp

Around fifty residents of a Marseille neighbourhood took the law into their own hands when they expelled a group of Roma and burned their encampment on Thursday night.

The residents said they were exasperated by continuing break-ins and thefts, which they attributed to the group of about 40 campers, according to press reports.

When police arrived on the scene at 7.30pm the site was already in flames.

No injuries were reported.

The Roma arrived in caravans four days ago to the site near a housing development for low-income people in the 15th arrondissement of Marseille.

Old furniture, clothing and household appliances were among the objects set on fire, reported.

“We warned them,” a member of the vigilante group told the online news site.

“At first we said we were not against them staying here (. . .) we just told them not to do anything stupid.”

But over two days a number of thefts occurred in the vicinity, the group claimed.

The individuals appeared pleased with their action, with one of them saying “we don’t need the army”.

But concerns have been raised that this may trigger similar moves against other encampments of Roma in neighbourhoods around Marseille.

The president of the human rights league for the Bouches-du-Rhône region told the French-language AFP news service that he feared the worst.

Bernard Eynaud said the incident crossed a barrier into new territory.

“There weren’t any injured but one can fear the worst for what may follow,” Eynaud said.

The incident recalls attacks on immigrants that have occurred in the past around Marseille.

A sentiment that authorities are not acting to deal properly with Roma has led to discrimination against the primarily Romanian and Bulgarian migrants that is deplorable, Eynaud said.

Earlier this week, police in Paris raided several Roma camps in northern Paris and detained detained 10 people for forcing children into pickpocketing in the capital.

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IN PICTURES: How floods and a bin strike left Marseille submerged in waste

Torrential rain hit the city of Marseille in the south of France on Sunday and Monday, just days after local waste collectors ended a week-long strike, leading to fears of "catastrophic" waste making its way to the ocean.

IN PICTURES: How floods and a bin strike left Marseille submerged in waste
A man stands on a beach covered with cans following heavy rains and a strike of waste collectors in Marseille on October 5th. Photo: Nicolas TUCAT / AFP.

Marseille is located in the Bouches-du-Rhône département, which Météo France placed on red alert for heavy rain and flooding on Monday. Schools in the area shut and people were warned not to leave their homes as two months’ worth of rain fell in a single day in the Mediterranean city, after heavy rains had already caused flooding on Sunday night.

The situation was compounded by the fact that uncollected garbage was blocking storm drains in certain parts of the city – drains which would normally be cleared ahead of heavy rain – and making it more difficult for emergency services to intervene.

The city’s waste collectors had begun clearing the streets on Saturday after an agreement between unions and local authorities put an end to an eight-day strike over an increase to working hours.

But rain over the weekend made the monumental job even more difficult, and the result was that “rivers of rubbish” flowed through the city’s streets on Monday.

“Rubbish is everywhere. It’s a catastrophe,” biologist Isabelle Poitou, director of the MerTerre association, told AFP. “We’re expecting a strong mistral wind which will push the rubbish, which is currently making its way towards the sea, onto the beaches.”

“It’s vital to come and clear the rubbish from the beaches on Tuesday or Wednesday,” she added. “We need to act before the rubbish gets scattered in the sea at the first gust of wind.”

A woman collects waste on a beach after heavy rains and following a strike of waste collectors in Marseille.

A woman collects waste on a beach after heavy rains and following a strike of waste collectors in Marseille. Photo: Christophe SIMON / AFP.

The video below tweeted by BFMTV journalist Cédric Faiche shows the state of a beach in Marseille early on Tuesday morning. “It’s been cleaned several times but cans and different types of plastic continue to arrive…” Faiche wrote.

However, Faiche told BFM there are similar scenes every time there is heavy rain in Marseille, even if the strike has made the situation even worse.

Minister of the Sea Annick Girardin shared a video of the “sad scene” captured in Marseille on Sunday night. “Discussions between trade unions and the city must not make us forget what really matters: we are all responsible for our seas and our oceans!” she said.

“It’s unacceptable,” Christine Juste, deputy mayor in charge of the environment in Marseille told BFM on Tuesday, criticising the “lack of reactivity” in collecting leftover rubbish following the end of the strike on Friday.

“Why wait so long? In the 6th arrondissement, there has been no collection since the announcement that the strike was over,” she said.

IN PICTURES: See how the deluge has left parts of France’s Mediterranean coast submerged

The Aix-Marseille-Provence Metropolis intercommunal structure, rather than city hall, is in charge of rubbish collection in Marseille.

On Monday morning, the Metropolis dispatched 650 workers to clear away as much waste as possible ahead of the heaviest rainfall which was forecast for the afternoon.

On Monday evening, Marseille’s Mayor Benoît Payan told franceinfo that 3,000 tonnes of garbage were still yet to be collected in the city. “I asked the Prime Minister this evening to class the zone as a natural disaster,” he added.