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Ministers lash out at deportation backlash

  |   Sept. 15, 2010 at 9:15 AM
PARIS, Sept. 15 (UPI) -- Cabinet members at the center of France's deportation policy on Roma -- or gypsies -- have rejected criticism from the European Union justice commissioner.

French Cabinet member Pierre Lellouche, responsible for European affairs, accused EU commissioner Viviane Reding of making a "gaffe," comparing modern-day deportations of Roma to deportations during World War II, while Immigration Minister Eric Besson said France respected the European Union laws concerning the return of illegal immigrants to their country of origin, the BBC reported Wednesday.

France has deported at least 1,230 East European Roma since July, accusing them of settling in France illegally. On Tuesday, France removed about 230 Roma.

Reding urged the European Commission Tuesday to take legal action against France, calling the deportations a "disgrace."

"This is a situation I had thought Europe would not have to witness again after the Second World War," Reding said.

Lellouche took offense at suggestion that the current government was acting like France's wartime regime that rounded up Roma, some of whom were sent to Nazi death camps, the BBC said.

"As a French minister, as a French citizen, as the son of somebody who fought in the Free French Forces, I cannot let Ms. Reding say that the France of 2010, in dealing with the issue of the Roma, is the France of Vichy (during WWII)," he said.

France has been deporting Romanian and Bulgarian Roma who agree to be repatriated in exchange for cash payments of about $423 per adult and $130 per child, the BBC said.

"A nest egg, an air ticket for the country of origin in the European Union is not the death trains. It's not the gas chambers." Lellouche said.

Separately, Besson said Reding "wants to know whether France has respected EU law and its own legislation, and the answer is: 'Yes, France has respected that.'"

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