French expulsions now aimed at ‘Romanians’ and ‘Bulgarians’

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In the first nine months of the year, France repatriated 6,562 Romanians and 910 Bulgarians, according to French Immigration Minister Eric Besson, who has stopped referring to them as Roma. EURACTIV Romania reports.

Apparently, expulsions of Roma by France continue unabated, but noticeably, France has ceased to refer to them by their ethnicity.

Besson announced that the French authorities had repatriated 1,476 Romanians and 227 Bulgarians by force, adding that in addition to those, 5,086 Romanians and 683 Bulgarians had accepted financial assistance to return home.

Paris provides 300 euros per adult and 100 euros per child for families who agree to return to their home countries. The tactic has been denounced by human rights groups as a form of bribe, while others say they merely provide "paid holidays" for Roma and allow them to buy a return ticket to France.

Indeed, as EU citizens, Roma from Bulgaria and Romania are free to travel back to Western Europe and a bus ticket costs about 80 euros.

Overall, 21,384 foreigners – including EU nationals – were expelled from France during the same nine-month period, Besson said. Of these, Bulgarians and Romanians were the most willing to accept financial assistance.

Besson said that 2010 had not marked a major shift in expulsions, but admitted "an acceleration" of expulsions of "Romanian nomads" in irregular situations in August and September.

The change of vocabulary appears to mark a change of tactics after France was strongly criticised by the European Commission for discriminating against Roma in its expulsion policy.

Besson only referred to those expelled by their nationality and the term "nomads", which designates a way of life, not an ethnicity.

A year and a half ago, Italy avoided Commission criticism for discriminating against Roma in a fingerprinting campaign targeted at the ethnic group. The reason for this, explained a Commission spokesperson, was that the Italian administration called the Roma "nomads".

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Many Roma from Eastern Europe moved to the West following the EU's enlargement, creating tensions, particularly in Italy. An estimated 15,000 Roma from Romania and Bulgaria live in France. The French government is expelling large numbers of them in groups.

The European Commission is challenging the legal grounds for the expulsions. France is insisting that its measures are not discriminatory and are intended to protect the security of its citizens and public order.

On 29 September the Commission decided to take France to task regarding its summer crackdown on illegal Roma camps, giving Paris until 15 October to prove that its policies comply with EU laws guaranteeing the free circulation of people.

France abided by the Commission deadline at the last minute by submitting information on how it intends to align its national legislation with EU laws on the free movement of people. But the country remains under scrutiny to determine whether its summer crackdown on illegal Roma camps amounted to discrimination on the basis of ethnicity.

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