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'Anti-traveller' ditches spark outrage in France

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'Anti-traveller' ditches spark outrage in France
Wavrin town hall. Photo: Velvet/Wikicommons
10:21 CEST+02:00
Town officials in northern France have come under scrutiny after ordering ditches to be dug out in an effort to dissuade travellers from setting up camp there.

At the beginning of June, the right-wing mayor of Wavrin, Alain Blondeau, ordered a dozen ditches to be dug in order to dissuade travellers from parking their caravans on municipal land.

But the initiative has sparked controversy in the town, with Martine Demande, a local councillor from the opposition, claiming that the mayor did not consult on the decision.

“There was no discussion with the mayor beforehand. It's quite shocking,” she said, according to Le Figaro.

She also criticized the fact that the ditches had been dug with taxpayer's money.

“It is €28,000 paid by taxpayers. In addition, it is not even a company from the town that carried out the works. It's unthinkable!”

Residents aren't impressed either.

"There are other ways to do it rather than digging trenches like this one. It's awful. We could have put up barriers or little hoops which has already been done," a resident told France 3. 

"Caravans outside houses is not exactly much better," another complained.   

By not providing land to travelling communities, Wavrin is breaking the Bresson law from 2005, which obliges towns of more than 5,000 inhabitants to offer a space to travellers.

Speaking on France 3 local radio, Blondeau refused to comment: “The subject of travelling people is a very complex one... and I don't want to add fuel to the fire.”

This isn't the first time a French politician has got into hot water for their attitudes towards travelling communities.

In July 2013 French centre-right MP Gilles Bourdouleix was investigated for suggesting that “Hitler did not exterminate enough” Roma during the Holocaust during a heated exchange with a French traveller community, which had set up camp in his town of Cholet, western France. 

He was later fined €3,000 for his comments.

Later that year, Paul Renaudat, mayor of the village of Chavannes, in the central department of Cher, told local police and a radio station he would kill himself if a group of 35 or so traveller families didn't leave the area.  

"The next caravan that turns up on communal land, I will disappear," he said at the time. "There have been others who made sacrifices so the Republic could move forward and I am ready to do the same."

More recently, a union representing bus drivers in Montpellier, southern France, sparked outrage after it proposed the creation of a separate bus service for Roma people following complaints about the “unbearable” smell. 

SEE ALSO: France to probe MP's Hitler rant

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