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UN slams France as crackdown on Roma accelerates

Forced evictions are placing Roma families in “highly vulnerable” situations, according to UN human rights experts.

Roma gypsies rest in a camp in Evry, outside Paris, Monday Aug. 27, 2012
Roma gypsies rest in a camp in Evry, outside Paris, Monday Aug. 27, 2012
Image: Jacques Brinon/AP/Press Association Images

UNITED NATIONS HUMAN rights experts have slammed France for evicting ethnic Roma from makeshift camps across the country without any attempt to make alternative provisions for them.

In a strongly-worded statement, the UN’s Special Rapporteurs on minority issues, migrants, housing and racism made it clear they believe France is in danger of breaching its commitments under international human rights conventions.

“Evictions continue and threaten to place families in highly vulnerable situations,” said Raquel Rolnik, the UN Special Rapporteur on adequate housing.

Human rights standards

“Forced eviction is not an appropriate response and alternative solutions should be sought that conform with human rights standards.”

The UN broadside came hours after police in the Paris suburb of Stains expelled around 500 Roma from a camp that was then razed by bulldozers.

The operation, carried out on public health grounds on the basis of a court order, lifted to around 750 the number of Roma made homeless in different parts of France this week as a result of their camps being dismantled.

French authorities have justified their actions on the grounds that the often squalid camps represent a threat to the health of their inhabitants and, when they are located near roads or rail lines, can be dangerous.

The UN criticised that approach, saying legal safeguards should be in place to ensure children, women and those with illnesses or disability were not left homeless or vulnerable.

“Though these acts are being justified on the basis of unsanitary conditions, few if any visible efforts are being developed to find alternative solutions for these communities, such as improving housing conditions,” Rolnik noted.

Accelerating clearance

France’s Socialist government has defied its critics by accelerating the clearance of camps which are home to an estimated 15,000 Roma across France.

Despite the reservations of several of his colleagues, Interior Minister Manuel Valls has pursued a policy of dismantling the settlements and offering free flights and financial incentives for the Roma to return to their countries of origin.

As well as being criticised on human rights grounds, the policy has been attacked as futile since repatriated Roma can easily return to France under European Union freedom of movement rules.

Valls argues that primary responsibility for the Roma should lie with their countries of origin, where the ethnic minority has faced discrimination and marginalisation for generations.

- © AFP, 2012

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