New French government moves against Roma camps

Police were used to help dismantle the camps while caravans were removed

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French police have been dismantling illegal Roma (Gypsy) camps after the new Socialist government promised action on public health grounds.

Two camps near Lille were closed on Thursday morning, following similar moves in Paris and the Lyon area.

About 240 east European Roma were put on a flight to Bucharest after agreeing to return to Romania voluntarily.

Critics say the Socialists are copying the mass clearances under conservative ex-President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Interior Minister Manuel Valls said in a statement on Wednesday that court orders to remove illegal camps would be executed "with firmness".

Who are the Roma?

  • Nomadic people whose ancestors are thought to have left north-west India at the beginning of the 11th Century and scattered across Europe
  • EU's largest Roma minority is in Romania - more than a million
  • Many Roma in Europe are hampered by poverty, low literacy levels and discrimination

Unsanitary camps were unacceptable, he said, adding that they posed a challenge to community life in the working-class areas where they were often set up.

He stressed that he had instructed officials to consult local politicians and associations with a view to rehousing especially vulnerable people such as children and pregnant women.

Mr Sarkozy's demolition of illegal Roma camps and expulsions in the summer of 2010 drew protests from France's neighbours and the European Commission.

As part of the new crackdown

  • Some 200 Roma were displaced when police dismantled a camp at Hellemmes and another at Villeneuve d'Ascq, both in the Lille region, on Thursday morning
  • A camp housing about 160 Roma in the 19th arrondissement of Paris was dismantled on Wednesday
  • Three camps in the Lyon area - one at Vaulx-en-Velin and two at Villeurbanne - have been closed down since Sunday, with more than 200 Roma affected
BBC map

Following the closures around Lyon, about 240 Roma were put on a plane at the city's Saint-Exupery airport on Thursday morning after agreeing to leave France voluntarily, in return for payments.

A Roma rights campaigner, whose name was given only as Jean-Philippe, told France 3 television the voluntary returns were "expulsions in disguise".

The compensation given - 300 euros (£237; $317) per adult - was a waste of public money, he argued, because many of the Roma would return to France.

Campaigners argue that the Roma face discrimination in their home countries.

The Roma are EU citizens, mostly from Romania or Bulgaria, but French law requires them to have a work permit and prove they have the means to support themselves if they intend to stay for more than three months.

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