As part of a police crackdown backed by the country’s president, about 700 people have been removed from more than 40 illegal Roma (Gypsy) camps in France. (photo, from bbcimg.co.uk)
French interior minister, Brice Hortefeux, said the Roma would be returned to their country of origin on “specially chartered flights”.
At the same time, France’s treatment of Roma was sharply criticised by members of a committee of UN experts who 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.
The tone of French political discourse provoked sharp criticism from some of the experts on the panel, such as France’s recent debate on national identity and immigration.
The committee is expected to make final recommendations by the end of the month.
In July, French president Nicolas Sarkozy announced plans to shut 300 illegal camps within the next three months. The police moved in last week.
Sarkozy added that members of the Roma community who had committed public order offences would be deported immediately.
The order was in response to last month’s attack on a police station in the Loire Valley town of Saint-Aignan by a group of young Roma.
Hundreds of thousands of Roma or travelling people live in France and are part of long-established communities.
The other main Roma population is made up of recent immigrants, coming mainly from Romania and Bulgaria. Though they have the right to enter France without a visa, they must have work or residency permits to settle over the long-term.
According to French officials, if they were jobless and represented a social burden, those immigrants could be returned under European law.
“All the measures are taken in the context of voluntary return, accompanied by humanitarian aid,” said French immigration ministry official Frederique Doublet.
French interior minister has announced that he will be meeting Romanian junior minister next week in order to call on Romanian police to assist in the crackdown in France.