…Nicolas Sarkozy Evokes Memories of Gestapo by Rounding Up Roma for Expulsion
Members of traveller minorities block access to the Aquitaine bridge, after hundreds were kicked out of an illegal camp site in Anglet. Source: AFP
TWO boys stood in a gymnasium in an eastern Paris suburb yesterday and pondered their future. “I want to be a mechanic and a footballer,” said Benjamin, 14.
“First, I’d like to go to school,” he added.
His companion, who has also never been to school, wanted to be a journalist.
The boys’ immediate future is fairly certain. The French police will pack them off to Eastern Europe, along with other foreign Roma whom President Sarkozy plans to expel in a clampdown on illegal immigration and crime.
Mr Sarkozy’s offensive against France’s 15,000-strong population of Romanian and Bulgarian “Roms” is popular, according to polls. However, it is so harsh that some MPs in his centre-right camp have rebelled, with one calling it a return to the Nazi round-up of Gypsies and Jews.
Last week a United Nations antiracism panel in Geneva deplored the anti-Roma campaign and talked of “a significant resurgence of racism” in France. Daniel Cohn-Bendit, a senior Green Party figure and famed former student revolutionary, accused Mr Sarkozy of “taking the French for fools” with his current campaign that links immigrants and crime.
The operation against the Roma is part of a clampdown that began last month after ethnic riots in Grenoble and an attack by 400 Gypsies on a police station 240km south of Paris. In the face of a left-wing outcry Brice Hortefeux, the Interior Minister and chief enforcer for the President, is standing firm. He has given up his holiday to lead police in a drive to dismantle 300 illegal Roma camps. By last weekend they had demolished 40 and ordered 700 adults and their children to leave France.
Benjamin and his family, who have been in France for six years, were spending their fifth day in the gymnasium at Choisy-le-Roi along with 70 others from Romania. At dawn on Thursday last week armed police gave them 30 minutes to leave the caravans and huts where they lived under a flyover on the motorway that rings outer Paris. With their caravans and other belongings confiscated the Roma wandered the streets until the council offered them use of the gymnasium.
With rain lashing outside the families sat with their belongings on thin rubber mattresses that the council had provided. The Red Cross was feeding them. A similar scene could be found a few miles away in Montreuil, where the Green Party Mayor has taken in Roma who had been rounded up ten days ago.
The councils have called on the local prefects – the county state executives – to take care of the homeless Roma but they were not optimistic. The Government is adamant that it will rid France of a people who it says have become increasingly troublesome since the entry of Romania and Bulgaria to the European Union in 2007.
The Roma are distinct from France’s 350,000 tsiganes, or Gypsies, whose ancestors arrived centuries ago. They too are under police pressure but they are French citizens. In a protest at Bordeaux about 200 have used caravans to block a bridge for the past three days.
Paris is offering euros 300 per person to the Roma to leave and it is putting pressure on Bucharest and Sofia to improve conditions for their Roma minorities. Italy and other countries affected by the Roma migration are offering similar schemes.
Activists said that the policy would not work because, as EU citizens, Romanians and Bulgarians could return. They can be expelled only if they have no gainful employment after three months. In the Choisy gymnasium they had no doubts. “If they send me to Romania I’ll come back to France the next day,” said Rodika, 38, who has been in France for eight years.
Jean-Pierre Grand, a MP and critic of Mr Sarkozy, said that the police raids were disgraceful. “These are the methods of les rafles,” he said, using the word for the French police and German Gestapo round-ups of the Second World War.