France rounds up hundreds of Roma

Image caption,
Roma families have been removed from their camps as part of the crackdown

Some 700 people have been removed from more than 40 illegal Roma (Gypsy) camps in France as part of a police crackdown backed by President Nicolas Sarkozy.

The country's Interior Minister, Brice Hortefeux, said the Roma would be returned to their country of origin on "specially chartered flights".

Meanwhile, members of a committee of UN experts sharply criticised France's treatment of Roma.

They said racism and xenophobia were undergoing a "significant resurgence".

The UN's Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is investigating how traveller communities, including the Roma, are treated.

Some of the experts on the panel issued sharp criticism about the tone of political discourse in France, including its recent debate on national identity and immigration.

The committee is expected to make final recommendations by the end of the month.

'Social burden'

Last month President Nicolas Sarkozy announced plans to shut 300 illegal camps within the next three months. The police moved in last week.

Mr Sarkozy also said members of the Roma community who had committed public order offences would be deported immediately.

The order was a response to last month's attack on a police station in the Loire Valley town of Saint-Aignan by a group of young Roma.

There are hundreds of thousands of Roma or travelling people living in France who are part of long-established communities.

The other main Roma population is made up of recent immigrants, mainly from Romania and Bulgaria. They have the right to enter France without a visa but must have work or residency permits to settle over the long-term.

French officials said those immigrants could be returned under European law if they were jobless and represented a social burden.

"All the measures are taken in the context of voluntary return, accompanied by humanitarian aid," said French immigration ministry official Frederique Doublet.

The interior minister has announced that he will be meeting Romanian junior minister next week to call on Romanian police to assist in the crackdown in France.

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