Ethnic Roma living in France are considering legal action against Interior Minister Manuel Valls who said in an interview that Romani migrants from Bulgaria and Romania didn’t want to be integrated into society.
In an interview with the French daily Le Figaro published on 15 March, Valls said that around 20,000 Roma migrants from Bulgaria and Romania living in some 400 camps had no interest in integrating into French society.
This, he said, was "for cultural reasons or because they are in the hands of begging or prostitution networks."
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 and safety grounds.
The activist group Roma Voice ("Voix des Roms") said Valls's comments were "concentrated lies" designed to smear the entire community.
"This interview is a very bad sign," the organisation said in a statement. "It signals a hardening of a policy that has been in place since 2003, when [former President] Nicolas Sarkozy became interior minister," it stated.
Considering a complaint under French law, Roma Voice said they would be reporting Valls' latest comments to the European Commission, which has questioned the legality of France's policy of systematically dismantling illegal camps and repatriating Roma to Bulgaria and Romania.
The expulsions of Roma immigrants to their countries of origin “have never been a solution” to the problem, the NGO adds.
France and Romania signed a deal on the voluntary repatriation of Roma last September.
The Roma are Europe's largest ethnic minority, EU figures show. The European Commission estimates the Roma population in the EU at 11 million, with with their origins tracing back to mediaeval India.
Census statistics show that 535,000 Roma live in Romania, 370,000 in Bulgaria, 205,000 in Hungary, 89,000 in Slovakia and 108,000 in Serbia. Some 200,000 Roma are estimated to live in the Czech Republic and Greece, while 500,000 live in Turkey.
Many Roma from Eastern Europe moved to the West following the EU's enlargement.
France has insisted that the measures it took to expel members of the Roma community are not discriminatory and are intended to protect security and public order.
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