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French Treatment of Roma: Contradictions and Condemnations

August 31, 2012

The French government has come under international scrutiny again for the treatment of Roma populations within its borders after French police recommenced closing camps where much of the Roma population resides. Police tore down camps in Lille, Paris, and Lyon in what many see as a continuation of the controversial policies set out by conservative former president Nicholas Sarkozy. As justification for the police action,  French interior minister Manuel Valls claims the camps pose a sanitary hazard. But the Roma are not only facing the destruction of their homes; in many cases they are being expelled from France. The French government maintains that those who left France did so voluntarily, and that they were compensated €300 for each adult and €100 for each child. Nevertheless, the closure of camps and expulsion of Roma to Romania (where over 90% of the Roma in France come from) have put strains on relationships between the two countries, and have been condemned by the European Commission and human rights groups.

However, the story of the Roma in France is not limited to issues of housing. In a somewhat contradictory move, the French government has pledged to ease regulations preventing immigrants from Romania and Bulgaria from entering the labor market in France. This would involve expanding the scope of sectors in which the Roma are permitted to work as well as lifting a tax levied on companies that employ them. France is one of six countries within the European Union that maintain barriers to work for immigrants from Romania and Bulgaria. Such restrictions have been deemed in violation of the EU’s legislation protecting the ease of movement and the single market for citizens of its member nations, and all member nations are required to eliminate the bans by the end of 2013.

The French government has asked that the issue of Roma integration be put on the agenda of the European Summit to be held in October. Specifically, France seeks to address the problem in a European context, as France is not the only country struggling to integrate immigrants into its population. The issue of integration and identity of the Roma people has become increasingly important on the political stage across the EU since Romania and Bulgaria entered the Union in 2007.

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