Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault announced Wednesday that the number of job sectors available to Roma migrants in France will be expanded to include 150 new work sectors. Along with this new policy, the Prime Minister also announced that the government will abolish a tax that employers must currently pay if they hire a Roma worker. Sometimes that tax can be as high as 1,800 euros, or around $2,200.
The 15,000 Roma migrants currently in France hail mostly from Romania, with a smaller number from Bulgaria. They often face a wide variety of prejudices and live in small encampments throughout France. French officials have attempted to push for assimilation or expulsion in recent months.
Earlier in August, under relatively new French president Francois Hollande, two Roma camps were dismantled near the city of Lille and 240 people volunteered to return to Romania, after being paid 300 euros to leave. Interior Minister Manuel Valls stood behind the policy to remove camps considered to be unsanitary, unhealthy and therefore illegal. He also claimed that the goal was to try and provide housing for especially vulnerable people, but that policy doesn’t appear to have gone into effect yet.
The camp demolition and explusion policies drew quite a range of criticisms from France’s EU neighbors, who called the voluntary exits “expulsions in disguise,” the BBC reports. Marie Higelin, who works with a French charity, criticized the conflicting policies of the French government:
When you talk about giving people work and at the same time say you are clearing illegal camps, it is nonsense… I don’t see how these poor people can be in this street one day, then in another…and then you tell them, go to work.
The new policies are intended to encourage greater assimilation into French society and to ease the current labor and residential restrictions that surround Roma groups. Many critics consider France’s policies to be discriminatory. Roma migrants are often pushed to the margins of cities like Paris and Lille, and have difficulty finding employment or access to housing.
Prime Minister Ayrault stated that the easing of job sector restrictions and the slashing of the employment tax were initiatives set in motion for humanitarian purposes. But he also maintained that the government would continue to dismantle unsanitary camps and continue to stop the exploitation of children, ABC news notes.
Unfortunately, the current easing of restrictions might only serve as a token gesture. A vast number of Roma people currently in France live in constant fear of being moved from their camps or expelled from the country, with very little resources to rely upon. They must also contend with police raids and discrimination. Euro News quoted one young Roma boy who said, “Why do you want us out? You and the police. They want us out.”
Clearly the strained relationship between the French government and Roma migrants will continue to produce unrest in a country that currently has a 10 percent unemployment rate.
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