Archbishop of Paris concerned about Gypsy crackdown as expulsions continue

By Angela Doland, AP
Thursday, August 26, 2010

Paris archbishop concerned about Gypsy crackdown

PARIS — The archbishop of Paris added to mounting criticism of France’s crackdown on Gypsies, referring to the operation as a “circus” and saying Thursday he would tell the government that there are lines that cannot be crossed.

Meanwhile, France expelled more Gypsies, or Roma, on Thursday, putting them on two flights to Romania. A poll showed the French are divided about the expulsion tactic, though slightly more favor it than oppose it.

President Nicolas Sarkozy’s conservative government has linked the Roma minority to crime and is dismantling their illegal squatters’ camps and putting many of them on flights back to their homes in Eastern Europe.

The policy has attracted widespread criticism from those who say it amounts to racism toward one of the European Union’s most impoverished minorities, and that Sarkozy is playing to the far right before the 2012 presidential election.

Paris Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois told Europe-1 radio that he planned to meet with the interior minister to tell him what Roman Catholics think, “and to remind him that there are certain lines that must not be crossed.” On Sunday, Pope Benedict XVI urged people to accept “legitimate human diversity” in remarks widely interpreted as a message about the Roma.

The cardinal — asked about one of his recent sermons that alluded to a circus — responded “I spoke of a circus, which was the manner in which this affair was handed during the summer.”

Also Thursday, the European Union Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding spoke out on the issue, saying “some of the rhetoric that has been used … has been openly discriminatory and partly inflammatory.” She said EU governments must ensure both public order and “the social integration of all Europeans” living within their borders and added that she intends to brief the European Commission on the matter.

French Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux on Wednesday dismissed the barrage of criticism against the crackdown as “political blather.”

At Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport, dozens of Roma, including children and babies, were escorted by police onto a flight to Romania. The country’s Mediafax news agency said a total of 284 Roma arrived from France on Thursday. Those who leave voluntarily are given euro300 per adult and euro100 per child to help resettle.

Human rights groups say the policy is absurd because many Roma simply return to France. Romania and Bulgaria are members of the European Union, and their citizens can enter France without a visa, but they must get work permits to work in France or residency permits to settle long-term.

One 36-year-old Roma woman who was recently turned out of an illegal camp in the Paris suburbs said she had already been expelled to Romania once before but immediately returned to France.

“I could not stay more than four days because I had no house,” the woman, Rodica, told Associated Press Television News, declining to give her last name amid the crackdown. “I could not stay there. So I had to ask my family, which stayed in France, to send me some money and then I bought a bus ticket to come back.”

A poll Tuesday and Wednesday of 1,000 people by the CSA agency for Le Parisien newspaper showed that 48 percent of those surveyed favored the expulsions, while 42 percent are opposed. No margin of error was given.

Also Thursday, French Minister for European Affairs Pierre Lellouche was meeting with two top Romanian officials in charge of security and Gypsy issues.

A day earlier, Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux dismissed criticism as “political blather” and insisted racial prejudice was not behind the crackdown. He said 117 camps have been dismantled so far and hundreds sent home.

Associated Press Television News producer Catherine Gaschka in Paris contributed to this report.

will not be displayed