The French are facing harsh criticism for their deportation of the Roma (gypsies), mostly from within the European Union. Since July, France has expelled more than 1,000 Roma to Bulgaria and Romania from illegal camps, and the rest of the population, which numbers more than 15,000, may be threatened. France claims that the departures are voluntary because the Roma have been receiving small payments in exchange for leaving the country, although many Roma have vowed to return legally. However, because freedom of movement and non-discrimination are embedded within EU rules, France’s decision is under scrunity.
Today, though, 337 European MPs passed a strongly-worded resolution, calling on the French to suspend their deportation immediately. They also demanded that the European Commission and EU governments work harder to integrate the Roma, many of whom are deeply impoverished, into European life. The French claim that they are making decisions about expulsion on a case-by-case basis, but the MPs wrote in the resolution that they were “deeply concerned in particular at the inflammatory and openly discriminatory rhetoric that has characterised political discourse during the repatriations of Roma.”
Essentially, other Europeans are concerned that racism is at work, and they are probably right. The Roma certainly fled discrimination in coming to France; after Bulgaria and Romania joined the EU, they began to move throughout the EU, both as a result of Romania’s austerity measures and the fact that a last year, a study revealed that 7 out of 10 Romanians would not accept a Roma as part of their family. The Roma enter France on three-month work permits, which are only extended if the holder has a job or can prove that they are not a “social burden.”
Discrimination is familiar to the Roma, who have suffered in Europe for centuries. As recently as 2008, Romani women were subjected to forced sterilization, and Roma communities are routinely denied access to electricity and running water. A Romani settlement was burned down in Naples in May of 2008, and in the Czech Republic, two-thirds of Romani children are placed in remedial programs for dysfunctional students.
If the European Commission decides that the French violated EU law by engaging in these deportations, it can censure France, or even take France to the European Court of Justice. The question, though, remains – will France listen, and how strongly do Europeans feel about enforcing non-discrimination against this marginalized ethinc group? They certainly don’t have a great track record, but this could be their opportunity to turn things around.
Photo from Flickr.