French minister Valls defends call for Roma expulsions

French Interior Minister Manuel Valls: "The majority must be returned to the borders. There is no other solution"

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French Interior Minister Manuel Valls says he stands by remarks calling for the country's Roma (Gypsies) to be expelled.

He said few Roma could ever integrate into French society and "the majority" should be sent "back to the borders".

He has been criticised by human rights campaigners, the European Commission and one of his cabinet colleagues.

Amnesty International is calling for a ban on forced evictions of Roma people in France in a report out on Wednesday.

It says more than 10,000 were evicted from temporary camps in the first half of the year.

It has said Mr Valls' remarks were likely to "perpetuate stereotypes and encourage animosity" among the approximately 20,000 Roma who have settled in France, mainly from Romania, Bulgaria and the former Yugoslavia.

"A theory that such and such a person or such and such a people will never, ever be able to integrate just doesn't stand up," said Mr Valls' cabinet colleague, Arnaud Montebourg, according to Agence France-Presse news agency.

"That's what they said about the Italians, that's what they said about the Spanish, it's what they said about the Portuguese, and what they said about the Arabs.

"Decreeing in advance that it is impossible seems to me excessive and is worthy of being corrected."

Mr Valls was also criticised by the UN human rights body, the European Commission, other rights groups including Roma organisations - some of whom are pledging to take Mr Valls to court for incitement to racial hatred.

'Nothing to correct'

But Mr Valls - a dapper 51-year-old who polls suggest is a rising star in Francois Hollande's Socialist administration - said he saw no reason to correct comments that Roma lifestyles were "clearly in confrontation" with French ways of life.

"I've got nothing to correct," he said. "My remarks only shock those who don't know the subject.

"The majority [of Roma] should be delivered back to the borders. We are not here to welcome these people.

"I'd remind you of [former Socialist premier] Michel Rocard's statement: 'It's not France's job to deal with the misery of the whole world.'"

The treatment of Roma people - who face widespread discrimination in Europe - is a political hot potato in France.

Mr Valls has encouraged local councils to systematically dismantle illegal Roma slums, and offer the expelled residents free flights back to their countries of origin.

He has also been at the forefront of French opposition to allowing Bulgaria and Romania full access to the passport-free Schengen zone.

Mr Valls is himself the Barcelona-born son of Spanish immigrants Mr Montebourg pointed out on Wednesday.

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