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ROMA

Police evacuate France’s oldest shanty town

A 300-strong Roma population was evicted from a shanty town in the northern suburbs of Paris on Thursday, despite a strong call for the camp to remain.

Police evacuate France's oldest shanty town
Roma community members walk with their belongings after the forced evacuation of their camp on Thursday. Photo: AFP
On a cold and rainy day in Paris, around 300 people were evicted from their camp in the Samaritain shanty town in La Corneuve, Seine-Saint-Denis, which was wedged between the A86 motorway and the RER B train line. 
 
The collection of makeshift homes had stood in the area for around seven years – enough to make it the oldest of its kind in France. However, a judge ruled earlier this month that enough was enough and that the slum had to be torn down. 
 
The move didn't come as a surprise for the residents, who were aware that the evacuation had been scheduled for a while and had even penned an appeal to the mayor to keep the town intact. 
 

(Police moved residents on from the shanty town on Thursday. Photo: AFP)
 
Authorities on the scene said the evacuation went without protest.
 
“The atmosphere is calm, we're speaking with the occupants, and they know it is merely a judicial decision,” one official told Le Monde newspaper.
 
The camp was home to around 80 families, most of whom came from Bulgaria and Romania.
 
One resident of the camp, 17-year-old Jozsef Farkas, personally wrote an appeal to the local mayor calling for the camp to remain after an offer from two NGOs, the Abbé Pierre Foundation and the Médecins du Monde to help fix the slum.
 
The organizations had offered to fund and carry out a cleaning of the slum, to install running water, and to help register the residents in schools and jobs with the long-term goal of joining regular society. 
 

(A look inside the shanty town before it was evacuated. Photo: AFP)
 
Over 38,000 people signed the petition, although their signatures fell on deaf ears. 
 
“Even though we have made huge efforts for seven years, our living conditions have not improved and remain dramatic due to the lack of an official address,” the teen had written in the appeal.
 
He added that the 300 residents would simply be left to move “out onto the streets” if the eviction went ahead. 
 
“What will be our fate? Where will we go? What will we do?” he wrote.  
 

(Residents from the slum gathered on the nearby streets of La Courneuve. Photo: AFP)

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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