France president announces new measures against illegal Roma

France president announces new measures against illegal Roma

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[JURIST] French President Nicolas Sarkozy [official website, in French] on Wednesday ordered measures [press release] against illegal Roma [JURIST news archive] communities in France and announced new legislation aimed at making their deportation easier. The announcement comes a week after riots by members of the Roma community sparked by the shooting of a young man, resulting in the deployment of 300 troops [DW report]. The government aims to dismantle half of illegal Roma camps in the country within three months and to immediately deport of all those found to have broken the law. In explaining the need for the measures, the government said:

The President … found [the] situation of lawlessness that characterized the Roma people [totally unacceptable]. 200 illegal settlements have been … identified [as] sources of illicit trafficking, deeply unworthy living conditions, exploitation of children for begging, prostitution or crime. He asked the Government to proceed, within three months, the evacuation of these facilities whenever the existing law allows. [Additionally], legislative reform will be undertaken to make [the dismantling of illegal settlements] more efficient.

The move has been criticized by human rights groups, such as the League of Human Rights [advocacy website, in French], which has accused Sarkozy of using the Roma as a “scapegoat” [press release, in French] and stigmatizing the Roma community. Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux refuted this, arguing that the goal of the measures were not to target any particular group [BBC report], but to promote public safety. 15,000 Roma are currently estimated to live in France.

In July, the Council of Europe’s European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) [official website] reported that racist violence and rhetoric has risen [JURIST report] in Europe during 2009, following the recent economic crisis. The report cites increasing hostility toward the Roma minority as well as the continuing discrimination against Muslims as seen in the proposed burqa bans [JURIST news archive] as two examples of groups facing more discriminatory actions. In February, Italian authorities began dismantling illegal immigrant camps [JURIST report] around Rome heavily populated by members of the Roma minority following the alleged rape of a 14-year-old girl by East European immigrants, which led to public outcry and vigilante reprisals. Opposition parties have voiced disapproval of the move, and the Vatican has warned against scapegoating.