Some 80 families will return to Romania under the pilot programme signed yesterday (12 September) by French Interior Minister Manuel Valls and European Affairs Minister Bernard Cazeneuve during talks with Romanian officials in Bucharest.
Valls, a firebrand Socialist who has continued the much criticised repatriation policies of the previous conservative French government, has defended police raids to break up Roma camps near Paris, Lyon and Lille on health grounds.
The Roma come mostly from Romania and Bulgaria, fellow European Union member states that human rights groups say discriminate against the minority.
An estimated 15,000 to 20,000 Roma immigrants in France live mainly in squalid camps in city outskirts. The French authorities say they lack the necessary residency permits.
But the daily Le Figaro, which is quite critical to the Socialist government, claims that 15,000 Roma live only in the Paris area. In Paris, 10% of the judicial prosecutions concern Roma, of which half are underage.
The newspaper also slammed the government’s measures for Roma relocation in what is called “insertion villages”. The cost of accommodating one Roma family per year is estimated at €26,000.
"We wish to send a message to the public that ... our joint efforts should be focused on a solution in which the Roma settle in their country of origin, Romania," Valls said after meeting Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta.
Ponta said his country accepted its responsibility to integrate the Roma community, adding that his government needed support from the EU and France.
Romanian President Traian Băsescu was quoted as saying that while the country was open to cooperation, it found as “unacceptable” claims that Romania tries to get rid of its Roma by encouraging them to leave the country.
“Romania doesn’t chase any citizen out of its territory,” he stated.
Time and patience
The daily Le Monde quoted the authorities both of France and Romania saying that it would take “time” and “patience” to obtain concrete results to obtain results in the effort of Roma integration.
“It will take time, to say otherwise would be lying,” Valls said.
Roughly 200 Roma and supporters protested earlier outside the government and president's offices in Bucharest, saying Romanian officials were only pretending to care about the problems facing their minority. One of their slogans read “EU, where is your Roma policy?”
At the same time in Brussels, Commission Vice-President Viviane Reding, responsible for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship, commended France for abiding by EU rules while dealing with the Roma issue.
Reding added that the French authorities showed a lot of “understanding” and were combining “repressive” measures with “positive” action to integrate this population and make it “work for the society”.
France's actions have come under close scrutiny from UN human rights investigators, as well as the EU, which two years ago criticised a crackdown on illegal Roma camps launched by Nicolas Sarkozy, who lost the presidency in May.