Romanian minister warns of rise of xenophobia in France
Romania’s foreign minister has warned about rising populism and xenophobia in France as Paris prepared to start its planned flights home for members of the Roma community.
Those being flown back to Romania were expelled from their camps as part of a new crackdown by Nicolas Sarkozy.
In the first signs of diplomatic tensions between the two countries following the president’s drive to banish foreign-born Roma living in France without a permit, Teodor Basconschi warned the French authorities against exacerbating existing prejudices.
“I am worried about the risks of populist provocation and the prompting of certain xenophobic reactions at a time of economic crisis,” the former Romanian ambassador to France told Radio France Internationale, calling instead for greater co-operation in a bid to tackle problems such as the Roma’s access to health care and education.
In a tacit reference to Sarkozy’s re-election ambitions for 2012, he said this should be done “without artificial electoral fever”.
Human rights groups and France’s leftwing opposition have accused the government of resorting to a crude and divisive law and order clampdown in order to boost its right-wing credentials at a time when the president’s approval ratings are low.
Ever since the interior minister, Brice Hortefeux, announced last month that around 300 Roma camps would be demolished by the end of October, the government has faced mounting criticism from NGOs and even MPs from the president’s UMP party.
One, Jean-Pierre Grand, provoked the wrath of Hortefeux by comparing the raids to the rafles, or round-ups, of Jews and Gypsies during Nazi occupation.
But, with opinion polls reflecting a high degree of public support for the camp evacuations, the crackdown on those foreign Roma deemed to be living in France illegally is continuing apace. More than 50 are understood to have taken place so far.
Today, for the first time since the evictions began, 79 Roma will be sent back to Bucharest on removal flights, which the government insists are voluntary.
Despite being EU citizens, mostly from Romania or Bulgaria, they are required under French law to have a valid permit to remain if they intend to stay longer than three months.
All those on the flight, authorities say, have accepted payment – 300 euros per adult, 100 euros per child – to enable their return.
Immigration minister Eric Besson has insisted the flights are “classic procedures” used regularly to return illegal immigrants to their countries of origin. The government has said it hopes to send back 700 Roma by the end of this month.
Critics of the government’s policy have pointed out that, as EU citizens, those removed will be perfectly entitled to come back to France whenever they like.
Asked about this possibility, Basconschi said that Romania “cannot block at the border” any citizens unless they have been found guilty of a crime.
From the Guardian