European Parliament blasts Roma expulsions

Sept. 9, 2010 at 4:33 PM
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STRASBOURG, France, Sept. 9 (UPI) -- French President Nicolas Sarkozy, already suffering from all-time low approval rates, is coming under increasing pressure from European lawmakers for his program of deporting Roma gypsies to their home countries.

In a rare move, the European Parliament Thursday in Strasbourg issued a resolution requesting that France and other EU countries "immediately suspend" the "discriminatory" practice of sending Roma to their home countries.

The MEPs said they wanted to voice their "deep concern at measures taken by France and other member states targeting Roma and travelers."

The lawmakers added they were "deeply concerned, in particular, at the inflammatory and openly discriminatory rhetoric that has characterized political discourse."

France has deported nearly 1,000 Roma to Bulgaria and Romania since Sarkozy launched the forced closure of illegal migrant camps in July and Italy has recently also resumed closing camps and expelling Roma.

The European Commission says it closely follows the expulsions to make sure that no EU rules are breached.

Despite severe criticism from human rights groups, French Interior Minister Eric Besson, who oversees the deportations, has vowed they would continue. Together with European Affairs Minister Pierre Lellouche, Besson is in Bucharest to talk with Romanian officials to improve the situation of the Roma so that they don't return to France.

Lellouche said France would ask Romania for police and judiciary cooperation as well as pressure Bucharest to do more against human trafficking and for the integration of Roma in Romania.

Sarkozy ordered the closure of the camps and the expulsions following violent riots involving travelers and police after a youth was killed. Paris has vowed the measures aren't meant to stigmatize any community, regardless of who they are, but to punish illegal behavior.

The opposition claims Sarkozy, with the practice, aims to stop his popularity decline, which has been in a free fall since his government drafted unpopular austerity measures to counter the economic crisis.

The Roma will be able to re-enter western European countries at any time because of free travel regulations in the European Union. Many of the Roma sent to Romania and Bulgaria have promised to turn back immediately. However, they are allowed to settle only if they have a work visa or a residence permit.

The Roma population in France is several hundred thousand strong and many of them have been living in France for decades. Other Roma traveled to the country in recent years, mostly from new EU members Romania or Bulgaria.

The largest Roma population in Europe, around 700,000, has settled in Spain, where the government has launched a $130 million program to improve the education, health and living conditions of Roma.

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