Society

Roma: No end to hypocrisy from Paris and Brussels

26 August 2010
Sega Sofia

Lille, Northern France, 20 August 2010. During the clearance of a Roma camp.

Lille, Northern France, 20 August 2010. During the clearance of a Roma camp.

The "humanitarian" repatriation of several hundred Roma from France to Romania and Bulgaria is "cynical and demagogical", insists Bulgarian editorialist Svetoslav Terziev. And worse yet, it offers nothing toward solving the problem of their eventual integration.

Over the next three months, France has promised to close down fully half of the illegal encampments of Roma throughout the country, sending their inhabitants back to Romania and Bulgaria. Out of francophone solidarity (Romania and Bulgaria are in fact members of the International Organisation of the Francophonie, OIF), Bucharest and Sofia have committed to taking back the Roma chased out of France, going so far as to send their own law enforcement officers to facilitate the task of the French police.

For this operation, Paris got the green light directly from the European commission, which has, curiously, had little to say on the matter. In short, all is in place for the most massive deportation of Roma since the Second World War. Thousands of people shuffled from one country to another, and for what? The Romanian and Bulgarian Roma will return to their home countries, and after spending some time with family and friends, they will just pick up and head back to France. Why? Because they already know the way, and they will be sure to secure living conditions that far exceed what awaits them in the two poorest countries of the European Union.

A heavy-handed solution that solves nothing

Nomadic by nature and uncomfortable with a sedentary existence, the Roma have experienced great difficulty in adapting to our way of life. There are some who still insist on continuing the endless voyage begun five hundred years earlier by their Indian ancestors, a voyage that has apparently never come to its ultimate destination. Their strong presence in the Balkans is due to two factors: first, it was first the Ottomans who cleared the way there for them, and then the Iron Curtain of communism prevented them from migrating further west. The countries of Western Europe, and notably France, have consistently persecuted the Roma since the 17th century, and the very worst of this was seen during the Nazi regime.

The insinuations accusing Bulgaria and Romania of practicing segregation, effectively pushing out the Roma, are disgraceful in light of the fact that historically speaking, these two countries have provided a safe haven in the face of general European hostility. Nor can these countries be accused of intentionally maintaining their poverty levels as a means of encouraging the Roma to move on. Hypocrisy will not help the EU to arrive at a solution, and in the latest twist, while waving the human rights flag, Europe is now accusing Bucharest and Sofia of not doing enough to assimilate the returning Roma. Italian and French authorities insist that they are not chasing the Roma from their territories because of intolerance, but simply because they don't want foreigners violating their laws.

EU should create appropriate spaces for the Roma

What we are seeing here is a situation where police are forcibly evicting the Roma to ghetto host countries that have neither the means to support them, not the right to oblige them to remain. Protocol 4 of the European convention on human rights (which treats the issues of imprisonment, free movement and expulsion) clearly stipulates that every citizen of the EU has the right to leave the country and travel anywhere on European soil. Technically, Romania and Bulgaria could try to maintain the Roma within their borders, but to do this, they would have to resurrect laws from the Communist era that mandated "exit visas" for citizens who wanted to leave the country for any reason.

France already holds the solution to this problem, as legislation already exists for French citizens who live and move about in a manner similar to that of the Roma: they have the official status of travellers ("gens du voyage"). But will France have the courage to propose this concept to Europe as a whole?

In France, this legislation mandates that all of the country's cities and towns with populations of 5,000 or greater provide vacant lots of land equipped with running water and electricity, for use by its travellers, thus modernising to some extent their nomadic lifestyle. Rather than invest in future ghettos in Romania and Bulgaria, this is what the European Union should be doing: creating appropriate spaces throughout Europe for the Roma, who have always preferred a way of life that perpetuates their migratory traditions. As the Roma have literally been Europeans for centuries, Europe is where their journey should continue.