Roma baby buried after French racism row

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Roma baby buried after French racism row
The mother of late Maria Francesca (C) cries flanked by relatives during the funeral of her baby on January 5th 2015 at the Wissous cemetery. Photo: Joel Saget/AFP

The dead baby of a Roma family at the centre of a huge racism row in France was finally laid to rest on Monday with just close family present.


The tiny white coffin was buried in a cemetery in Wissous south of Paris after a religious ceremony attended by 100 or so people, including representatives from the Roma community.

The tragic death of the two-and-a-half-month-old baby hit the headlines over the weekend after the local town refused them a burial plot, with the mayor reportedly saying priority should be given to taxpayers.

The mayor, Christian Leclerc, has since strenuously denied this, saying he had been a victim of a misunderstanding.

With fury mounting and even the prime minister describing the refusal as an "insult" to France, Leclerc offered his condolences to the family and said they could bury the baby in his town of Champlan.

However, the family refused his offer.

According to Csilla Ducrocq, a member of the ASEFRR association that helps Roma, the mother "says that her heart has been ripped out" by the baby's death.

"But she has nothing to say about the mayor. Just that she doesn't understand," Ducrocq said.

Others, however, have had plenty to say, with Leclerc accused of racism and the case highlighting France's tense relationship with the Roma, most of whom come from Eastern Europe.

The Roma, a nomadic people whose ancestors left India centuries ago, have long suffered from discrimination and are frequently accused of carrying out petty crimes.

The European Union believes there are currently 10 to 12 million Roma throughout Europe, which makes them the largest minority on the continent.

The burial row came as it emerged that another two-month-old Roma baby died in a shack near the train station of the northern city Lille amid freezing temperatures on Thursday.

Jacques Toubon, France's human rights pointman, said he was "shocked and stunned" by the alleged refusal, and announced a probe into the case.

And Prime Minister Manuel Valls took to Twitter to say: "Refusing a child a burial because of its roots is an insult to its memory, an insult to France."

President Francois Hollande made a passing reference to the tragedy, saying in a two-hour radio interview that he did not want French people to "lash out at others, like what happened in that cemetery."

'Same state racism' 

The baby, identified only as Maria Francesca, was born on October 14th and died in the early hours of December 26th.

She was cold and lifeless when her mother tried to feed her in the night and was rushed to the nearby Corbeil-Essonnes hospital, where she was pronounced dead from sudden infant death syndrome.

The family asked an undertakers in Corbeil-Essonnes to request permission from the authorities to lay the infant to rest but, according to the firm's manager Julien Guenzi, the mayor refused "without explanation".

"He doesn't have to justify himself, but responses like that are very rare," Guenzi told AFP.

The mayor of Wissous, a few kilometres away, then offered to host the burial, telling AFP it was "a question of humanity".

The child's parents are Romanians in their mid-30s who have lived in France for at least eight years, according to supporters.

They have two boys, aged five and nine, who attend school in Champlan.

The family live in a makeshift settlement on the outskirts of Champlan without electricity or running water, very close to Paris's Orly airport.

The case has touched a raw nerve in France, where successive governments have drawn fire for demolishing numerous Roma camps and evicting families with children, although some have cheered the tough approach.

The town hall of Champlan was splashed with pink paint overnight with "Lecler (sic), Valls, same state racism" daubed on the walls.


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