France expelled nearly 20,000 Roma people in 2013, which is not only a record, but more than double the number kicked out of the country the previous year.
Despite President François Hollande’s criticisms of his predecessor’s policy towards the Roma, the number of expulsions has been climbing since he took office in 2012, French newspaper L’Express reported. About 9,400 were expelled in 2012 and 8,400 were forced out in 2011.
“The expulsions are part of a policy of refusal,” of the Roma, “that has got worse since the left-leaning government took power,” the report says. “The authorities want only one thing: send the Roma back to their country of origin.”
France has been repeatedly criticized by the European Commission for its aggressive removals of Roma people. That inlcuded a warning in September when the commission noted the Roma, like all European Union citizens, are free to go where they wish. Three years ago the Commission's Vice President Viviane Reding sent a similar threat to former president Nicolas Sarkozy insisting that Roma expulsions had to stop.
Of a total of 400 Roma camps in France last year, authorities demolished 165 of them, pushing 19,380 people out in the process, according to figures collected by France's League of Human Rights and the European Roma Rights Centre.
Although official statistics have placed the number of Roma living in France at only 17,000, the higher number of expulsions is put down to individuals who were repeatedly thrown of France after returning. Families, mostly from Bulgaria and Romania, sometimes re-occupy the same sites that authorities have already destroyed.
“This policy of rejection is ineffective, costly and unnecessary since nothing has changed after these evictions,” League of Human Rights President Pierre Tartakowsky said. “Roma still live in France, in settlements they have rebuilt a little further away, but their situation is increasingly insecure. The ongoing, increased evictions pave the way for the expression of extremism and anti-Roma racism.”
France’s Interior Minister Manuel Valls has always defended the destruction of the Roma camps. He has also questioned the will of the Roma to integrate into French society, a suggestion that prompted volleys of criticism.
Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault has said previously the camps should not be taken down unless authorities first do an assessment of the impacted community. The evicted Roma must also be offered alternative housing options, he said. But the expulsions have continued and even accelerated.
During his bid for the presidency, candidate Hollande wrote a letter calling then President Nicolas Sarkozy’s approach to the Roma issue “dangerous” and “brutal.”
“I believe that once a camp is dismantled, alternative solutions must be proposed,” he wrote in a letter to Roma advocacy group Romeurope. “We cannot continue to accept that families are chased from one place to another without solutions.”
Since January 1 nationals from Bulgaria and Romania, where most Roma originally come from, are no longer subject to restrictions on their right to work in France. Several politicians have expressed fears that thousands more will come to France seeking to find work, but only end up living in the often squalid camps.
With an expected swelling of the Roma community in France, there are also fears that anti-Roma rhetoric from politicians on the right will only increase, especially in the run up to the local elections in March.