Near Lyon, Paris, Lille and Marseille, Roma camps were dismantled and over 550 Roma were forced to fly back to their home countries. The authorities have tried to hide the expulsions under the mask of voluntary repatriation, by claiming the Roma voluntarily decided to leave after receiving payments
of $370 for each adult and $184 for each child. This strategy was applied in order to avoid any national and international scrutiny of the supposedly 'voluntary' repatriations.
Roma deportations from France are certainly not new. In 2010, the then President Sarkozy dismantled
around 300 Roma camps across France and ordered the Romani people’s expulsion to Romania and Bulgaria. Sarkozy alleged that the camps threatened national security and were sources of trafficking, child exploitation and prostitution. In 2010, as in 2012, the Roma were offered payments to return to their countries of origin, in order to cover the expulsions.
What is particularly disheartening about the 2012 Roma expulsions is the fact that the situation for the Roma people living in France has worsened since the Hollande administration has come to power, instead of improving, as the current President had promised during his campaign. While running for President, Hollande had pledged
to stop the previous government’s policy of harassment against the Roma and the evictions to Romania and Bulgaria, provide alternative solutions to the expulsions and respect the Roma’s right as EU citizens to travel, reside and work in France.
The Roma evictions in August-September 2012 shattered these promises. To make matters worse, the French Interior Minister, Manuel Valls, came out with unpardonably racist remarks regarding the Roma and other minorities in France. When asked about the Roma, Valls responded that “France cannot welcome all Europe and the world’s scum
.” This is an unacceptable statement for a French minister. Using the term “scum” to describe the Roma and other groups living on French territory dehumanizes them, demarcates them as unwanted on the French territory and further incites the existing social stigma and discrimination against them.
The 2012 Roma expulsions indicate that France will willingly disregard EU laws and institutions, if they happen to contradict what France considers to be its own national interests. Just as in 2010, the expulsions were conducted in violation of one of the EU fundamental freedoms, the right to free movement of persons within the Union. Back in 2010, President Sarkozy at least strived to contrive a justification for the expulsions, by claiming that the Roma camps were a threat to public security. The Hollande administration did not even bother to provide an even remotely plausible legal motivation for the crackdown. Moreover, compared to 2010, the decision to evict the Roma is an act of further defiance of EU institutions, because it ignores the fact that in November 2011 the Council of Europe condemned
the 2010 expulsions as discriminatory, contrary to human dignity and published the decision by the European Committee of Social Rights on the complaint on Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE) v. France. This Europe-wide condemnation seems to have left the French government unimpressed.
As opposed to Sarkozy, who stopped after the expulsions, the Hollande administration took it one step further. On September 12, 2012 Manuel Valls, France’s interior minister, and Bernard Cazeneuve, the minister for European Affairs, visited Romania to discuss with their Romanian counterparts the problem of Roma integration and to establish a partnership in order to tackle this so-called problem. The French and Romanian governments signed an agreement on the establishment of a two-year reintegration
program for some of the repatriated Romani families.
The Romanian government rushed to accept the French proposal, at the expense of the European rights of its own citizens. Instead, the Romanian authorities should have denounced the French scheme to deport the Roma as contrary to EU legislation, where freedom of movement is enshrined as a fundamental right. Most importantly, the Romanian authorities should have refused to sign the agreement. The Roma people are European citizens and they are free to move as they please. They cannot be forced to reside where they do not want to. This Romanian-French agreement sets a dangerous precedent for other European countries who have been facing Roma problems, such as Germany and Italy, as it suggests that the solution to the Roma “problem” is to send them back to their respective home countries and finance their integration there, instead of striving to integrate them.
If the French government wants to support Romania in its effort to integrate the Roma, that is a welcome sign of cooperation and support. However, France has to provide assistance for the overall Romani population, not targeted assistance for the families it has kicked off its territory. France cannot export its own Roma “problem” to Romania and Bulgaria and simply pay for it to be solved.
Instead of shipping the Roma back, France should make the effort to integrate them. Spain provides a positive example of integration. In Spain, only 5 percent of gypsies live in camps,
while around half are homeowners. More than 85 percent of the Roma are literate and integrated in the Spanish community. Spain has emphasized that one of the key elements of Roma integration has been access to education
While Spain's example may be inspiring, a larger EU discussion needs to take place about what Roma integration should look like in European countries. The beauty of the Roma culture comes, to some extent, from the fact that the Romani people have managed to maintain their distinctive identity over centuries, manifested in elements such as their nomadic lifestyle. In an effort to preserve Romani people's culture and to ensure their rights are respected, several Roma organizations, such as the Plenary Assembly of the European Roma and Travelers Forum, are currently urging the European Council to adopt a European Roma Rights Charter
. The Charter would become a legally binding instrument forcing governments and international organizations to guarantee and respect the rights of the Roma. Measures such as the adoption of the Roma Rights Charter could ensure that the Romani people are finally recognized and treated as regular European citizens, not as the scum of Europe.