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France Vows to Continue Deporting Roma September 2, 2010

Posted by Yilan in France.
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With anger mounting over French deportations of Roma, top officials in the Sarkozy government have vowed to continue sending them back to Romania and Bulgaria, although they met with officials from Romania on Wednesday to coordinate strategies to aid the Roma there.

“It’s not a question of expelling Roma because they are Roma,” Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux said in an interview the same day with the radio station RTL. He cited crime statistics showing a 138 percent rise in the number of Romanians arrested in Paris last year, mostly for pickpocket offenses.

His appearance was part of a concerted effort by government officials who took to the airwaves to defend planned deportations of more than 850 Roma, also known as Gypsies, and a crackdown on illicit caravan encampments. That effort coincided with Nicolas Sarkozy’s return from vacation and his first cabinet meeting during a critical period that will define his presidency and his chances for re-election in 2012.

The government focus on Roma, who number more than 15,000 in France, has been lambasted as a political tactic by Mr. Sarkozy to shore up his base support on the right.

Pope Benedict XVI has urged the French “to accept human diversity,” and in an open letter on Wednesday to European leaders, the Hungarian-born American billionaire George Soros condemned the deportations, demanding a more comprehensive strategy.

“The French government was right to call for measures to improve employment and development opportunities for Roma in their countries of origin, in this case Bulgaria and Romania,” Mr. Soros wrote, urging a European plan, in particular, for early-childhood education for Roma children.

On Wednesday afternoon, Mr. Hortefeux met with Romania’s secretary of state for Roma integration, Valentin Mocanu. The encounter was the first of several planned government exchanges in Paris and Bucharest to coordinate strategies to enhance police cooperation, combat delinquency and increase European aid to integrate Roma in their home countries.

“What we decided today was to have better and more accurate public communication in order to allow the public to be better informed about this situation — to avoid igniting xenophobia,” Mr. Mocanu said. He added that the technical elements were still being worked out before an announcement of specific proposals to achieve their goals on Thursday.

Both sides characterized the meeting as cordial and tension free. Éric Besson, the French immigration minister, who also took part in the meeting, said the mood was “constructive and friendly” and without reproach from the Romanians.

As those talks were taking place, the French continued more flights for Roma, whose departures they classified as voluntary because in return for leaving, the Roma accepted payments of €300, or about $380, per adult and €100 per child. On Wednesday, several dozen people arrived in Bulgaria, where last week there was an uproar after the local news media reported that some of those deported on Friday were actually ethnic Turks.

In fact, the fundamental problems of the Roma in a borderless Europe could ultimately dampen further enthusiasm for admitting Turkey into the European Union.

On Wednesday, government officials in Romania and in Bulgaria made an effort to tone down the criticism and harsh rhetoric about the deportations. Bulgaria’s foreign minister, Nikolay Mladenov, appeared on a local station, Nova Televizia, to criticize media coverage.

“Bulgaria has the right to deport foreign citizens if they break the rules,” he said. “The current situation in France concerns fewer Bulgarian citizens compared with other countries, and the issue is being blown out of proportion by the media — this is purely an internal French political debate.”

The governments of Bulgaria and Romania have both noted that they have not been invited to a special immigration summit meeting on Sept. 6 that is organized by France. The list of interior ministers invited to the event includes representatives from Italy and Spain — which have much larger Roma populations than France — as well as Germany, Greece, Britain and Canada.

Mr. Mocanu, Romania’s secretary of state for Roma integration, said that was an issue he planned to take up with the French authorities this week.

Many of the deported Roma, who are vowing to return legally to France after their expulsion, left Bulgaria and Romania after those nations joined the European Union in 2007. They were largely fleeing poverty and discrimination in rural areas of Romania, where last year a study showed that 7 out of 10 Romanians would not accept a Roma as part of their family. They have also been pushed out by economic forces, particularly in Romania, where the government has introduced drastic austerity measures.

The largest number of Roma have resettled in Spain, with numbers totaling more than 700,000. There the Spanish government has taken a different approach than France, which since Jan. 1 has sent 8,300 Romanians and Bulgarians back to their home countries.

Spain created a program last April to invest €107 million over three years in education, health and lodging for Roma women.

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