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Roma ‘victims of police violence’ in France

Roma people living in France are increasingly the victims of police violence and harassment and sometimes left to fend for themselves even when they call for help, according to a damning new Amnesty International report published on Tuesday.

Roma 'victims of police violence' in France
Roma in France are frequently harassed by French police and often the victims of excessive police violence, say Amnesty International. Photo: Denis Charlet/AFP

French police harass and sometimes use excessive violence against Roma people and don’t always take the necessary measures to protect the group's makeshift communities, according to a new report from rights watchdog Amnesty International.

France continues to pursue a controversial policy of forcibly evicting Roma from their camps, often paying them to return to their countries of origin, mainly Romania and Bulgaria. The Roma are European citizens and have the right to be in France, so the expulsions have drawn repeated rebukes from the European Commission.

France’s systematic dismantling and expulsion of Roma group camps is seen by Amnesty as a major source of the harassment, with 20,000 Roma people expelled in 2013, a figure roughly equivalent to the entire estimated population of the group currently living within France's borders.

Many of France's Roma live in extreme poverty in makeshift settlements with little or no access to basic services, such as water and sanitation, and are at constant risk of forced evictions, Amnesty said.

The report cited several examples of alleged police brutality against Roma, including spraying tear gas inside tents where children were sleeping and beating up one man in the southern city of Marseille.

In Marseille alone, Amnesty recorded, "a dozen cases of police harassment or intimidation since 2011." One of the worst instances involved a Roma a man who had his leg broken by police during the dismantling of his camp late in November 2011.

Amnesty also said police had failed to properly protect Roma communities or investigate attacks against its people. In one case the police arrived an hour after being informed of an attack in May 2013 on Roma families in the town of Hellemmes, northern France.

The attackers still haven't been caught.

Amnesty also points to comments made in September by then interior minister Manuel Valls, now the prime minister, in which he said most of the Roma in France had no intention of integrating and should be sent back to their countries of origin.

After figures were released earlier this year to show that forced evictions have risen under France's Socialist government, League of Human Rights President Pierre Tartakowsky said: "This policy of rejection is ineffective, costly and unnecessary since nothing has changed after these evictions. 

“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.”

Amnesty also points to comments made in September by then interior minister Manuel Valls, now the prime minister, in which he said most of the Roma in France had no intention of integrating and should be sent back to their countries of origin.

Ten to 12 million Roma living in Europe

The report's release coincides with International Roma Day, and doesn't just focus on France by noting many of the ten to 12 million Roma living in Europe face "the daily threat of forced eviction, police harassment and violent attacks", Amnesty said.

"The conditions in which many Roma are forced to live are a damning indictment of years of official neglect and discrimination," the group said.

The Roma, a traditionally nomadic people whose ancestors left India centuries ago, have long suffered from discrimination. They were killed in their hundreds of thousands by the Nazis during World War II, alongside Jews and homosexuals.

Discrimination continues today as some countries blame Roma for a rise in petty crime.

In Greece, for instance, Amnesty blamed law enforcement for failing to intervene to stop racially motivated attacks on its 250,000 – 300,000 Roma, discouraging victims from filing complaints and failing to probe or effectively investigate complaints that are lodged.

"In many cases police officers themselves are perpetrators of hate crime," it said.

"More often than not, (national authorities) have pandered to the prejudices fuelling anti-Roma violence by branding Roma as anti-social and unwelcome," Amnesty said.

"For its part, the European Union has been reluctant to challenge member states on the systemic discrimination of Roma that is all too evident."

The report urged national governments and the European Union to commit to eradicating anti-Roma violence, by for instance ensuring that authorities investigate crimes against Roma and that police officers who are likely to come into contact with victims receive adequate training; and by ending forced evictions.

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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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