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Outrage in France over 'Roma-only' bus service

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Outrage in France over 'Roma-only' bus service
The bus service has been compared to South Africa's apartheid. Photo: Dominique Faget/AFP
13:57 CEST+02:00
A union representing bus drivers in Montpellier, southern France, has sparked outrage after it proposed the creation of a separate bus service for Roma people following complaints about the “unbearable” smell.

The idea was put initially forward by Dominique Granier, a member of the local Force Ouvriere (FO) union in the city in an article in the local Gazette de Montpellier newspaper dated April 2nd.

Describing the smell as “unbearable”, Granier said community’s use of the transport service constituted a “sanitary risk”.

His proposal concerns the number 9 bus route that connects the city centre with the Roma camp in the Grammont district.

The proposed bus service now has the backing of the city’s transport authority, the TaM (Transport for the Urban Area of Montpellier), according to Libération.

“The management has decided to follow the union by removing part of this bus line that is very popular with Roma people and to outsource this part of the line,” Bernard Gotis, a representative for the CGT union who is opposed to the proposal, told Libération.

According to the CGT union, FO union representatives for the transport authority withdrew many of their buses from the bus route last month in protest against the smell.

They also complained to the authority’s Committee for Hygiene, Security and Working Conditions (CHSCT) which then inspected the buses. 

However the proposal has been strongly criticized.

“It’s a disgrace. Yes, there is a bad smell when Roma people are on the bus and we have pointed it out for two years but it’s not their fault," Gotis said.

“It’s because we've abandoned them so much that they don’t have a tap in their camp. They’re not animals. We shouldn’t attack poor people but poverty. It only shifts the problem. We don’t want to recreate apartheid in Montpellier.”

The proposed bus service also faced criticism from the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC).

“France is bound under European Union law to prohibit race discrimination (i.e. less favorable treatment based on race) in relation to all services, including public transportation," the organization said in a statement sent to The Local.

"It seems very difficult to imagine how having a special bus for Roma could amount to anything other than unlawful discrimination. It stigmatizes Roma in ways that European anti-discrimination law was designed to prevent.”  

This isn’t the first time the idea of a Roma-only bus has been considered by authorities.

Last October a mayor in Borgaro, north-west Italy, controversially backed a plan to create a bus route only for Roma people following reports of passengers being robbed and abused on the bus line.

However, the plans never actually went ahead.  

The Local has tried to contact TaM for a comment on the story.

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