Over 1200 Roma have been expelled from France over the last two months, as the Sarkozy government pushes forward with plans to dismantle the 500 “illegal” Romani camps that lie outside urban centres.
The so-called “security measures” have come in the wake of two riots, in which Roma communities clashed with police after the shooting of community members. Sarkozy has said that the Roma “problem” is a threat to community safety and public order.
The Presidential office issued a statement claiming that the camps are, “sources of illegal trafficking, of profoundly shocking living standards, of exploitation of children for begging, of prostitution and of crime.”
The French state aims to halve the number of camps in three months. Sarkozy is also pushing harsher penalties against immigrants and French citizens of foreign origin who commit crimes. Mandatory sentencing, criminal charges against the families of youth offenders and revoking the citizenship of foreign-born citizens have all been tabled.
The scapegoating of a racial minority is the reaction of a government in crisis. Sarkozy faces the lowest approval rating of his presidency (38 per cent) and escalating opposition to his planned austerity measures. The aggressive measures against the Roma are an attempt to distract from the social ramifications of his party’s economic policy.
But Sarkozy’s attack on the Roma is causing controversy. European Union Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding condemned the round-ups as “a disgrace” and drew parallels with the treatment of Jews during World War II.
On September 30, the EU threatened France with legal action over the expulsions, giving Sarkozy until October 15 to comply with its directives.
Sarkozy’s party has denied that deportations are being carried out on a racial basis. But a leak from the Department of Internal Affairs revealed a plan to pursue, “a systematic operation to dismantle illegal camps, prioritising those of the Roma.”
The government has since produced crime statistics attempting to show the Roma as a problem. Interior Minister Brice Horleteux claimed that crime rates and “delinquency of Romanian origin” in Paris had increased by “138 per cent in 2009 and 259 per cent in 18 months” and that “today in Paris, the reality is that almost one in five thieves is a Romanian.”
By singling out an unpopular and vulnerable fraction of the community, the French Government is attempting to scapegoat them for broader social problems, diverting attention away from the real social injustice in French society.
By Hal Hewson