On Tuesday, European Union officials criticized the French government for its deportation of over 8,000 Roma. The European Commission referred to the acts as both unwarranted, and “a disgrace” that could result in legal action against the country. For the past two years, French officials have been targeting Roma through raids in various cities and villages. The raids are an attempt by the conservative Sarkozy administration to crack down on crime and illegal immigration. In 2009, France deported over 9000 Roma back to their native Romania.
“Let me be clear” said Viviane Reding, vice president for justice of the European Commission, “Discrimination on the basis of ethnic origin or race has no place in Europe.”
Reding, along with her colleagues, accuse France’s deportation policy of being founded on ethnic discrimination. Many compare Sarkozy’s initiative to the Jewish persecution in Nazi Germany. “This is a situation that I had thought that Europe would not have to witness again after the second World War,” said Reding during a press conference.
Roma, also known as Gypsies, have a long history of facing persecution in Europe. They live mainly in Southern and Eastern Europe, usually in poverty. They often migrate to various European nations in the hopes of escaping abject poverty, but France is the only country to react so harshly to Roma immigration.
This is the most recent of a long line of controversial legislative policies the French government has attempted to pass. French president Nicolas Sarkozy recently suggested that the citizenship of French immigrants be revoked if they commit “certain crimes”. Sarkozy is also infamous for stigmatizing the Roma people. He often claims Roma settlements are sources of prostitution and child labor.
French officials insist the deportations are not based on ethnicity, although a leaked government document says otherwise. In the letter, regional officials were urged to speed up raids on Roma camps. On Monday, French officials Pierre Lellouche and Eric Besson claimed to not have any knowledge about the letter and later declined interviews during the Brussels asylum meeting. Another letter sent out by France’s Interior Minister told officials to dismantle illegal camps, but made no specific references to Roma. The changed language in the second letter is an attempt to make it seem Roma are not the target of illegal camp raids.
France seems undeterred by the global outrage. They responded to the EU’s condemnation with their own criticisms. The French Foreign Ministry spokesman said he was “astonished” by the tone the EU took with France’s policy. He said “We don’t think that with this type of statement, that we can improve the situation of the Roma, who are at the heart of our concerns and our action. It’s not time for polemic … it’s time for work in favor of the Roma population.” France has decided not to place a moratorium on the deportations. On Tuesday, dozens of Roma were escorted to Marseille airport to await expulsion from the country.