France to dismantle half of all illegal itinerant camps
France's Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux announced Wednesday that half the country's illegal "travelling people" and Roma camps would be dismantled within three months, and that any caught breaking the law would be deported.
France's Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux said Wednesday that half the country's illegal “travelling people” camps would be dismantled within three months, and that Roma from Bulgaria and Romania would be sent back home if they broke the law.
Hortefeux made the announcement after a meeting of ministers called by President Nicolas Sarkozy in the wake of violence between itinerant groups and police.
Hortefeux vowed that itinerants who committed offences would undergo "virtually immediate" deportation to their countries of origin.
A communiqué issued by the Elysée’s press service following Wednesday’s meeting took particular issue with the Roma population, stating that Sarkozy had judged the illegal camps of Roma communities on French territory to be “inadmissible”. The text specified that 300 illegal camps had been identified as sources of “illicit trafficing, unacceptable living conditions, exploitation of children, prostitution or delinquency”.
The communiqué explained that France was going to be establishing measures of cooperation with Romania in order to crack down on the situation. One of those measures will include Romanian and Bulgarian police officers working in Paris to aid French security forces in their efforts.
‘Fanning the flames’
In an interview with France24.com, Malik Salemkour, vice president of the French Human Rights League, called the announcement “scandalous”. “Evacuating shantytowns simply because their inhabitants are Roma amounts to racist targeting”, he said.
Salemkour also accused the government of “fanning the flames” and finding “easy scapegoats to avoid dealing with the underlying issues”.
The controversy exploded last week when Sarkozy spoke of “the problems posed by the behaviour of some of the travelling people and Roma" while condemning the destruction of a police station and government property by approximately 50 “travelling-people” rioters. The rioters had taken to the streets with axes in the Cher region, in central France to protest against the death of a 22-year-old who was shot by the police.
The rioters were part of a nomadic community the French call “gens du voyage” or “travelling people”. The community is made up of French nationals, who, like Roma or Irish travellers, choose to live a nomadic lifestyle. Most of them reside in mobile homes or trailers and have both French nationality and a permit allowing them to move freely around the country.
Sarkozy’s comments angered advocacy groups, who accused him stirring up racist sentiment and pandering to the far-right. According to FRANCE 24’s French politics editor Marc Perelman, Sarkozy’s statements and Wednesday’s meeting may be part of a strategy to combat floundering approval ratings. “Sarkozy feels like he has to regain some ground on the issue of crime”, Perelman explained. Security was one of the issues Sarkozy emphasised during his successful presidential campaign in 2007.
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