French Roma evictions 'are forced'
France's treatment of thousands of Roma migrants who have been expelled to Eastern Europe has come under new scrutiny from the European Commission and a leading rights group.
Amnesty International said more than 10,000 Roma, also known as Gypsies, had been evicted from French squatter camps from January to August, with many forced to return home to Romania and Bulgaria, despite European Union rules requiring free movement for all EU citizens.
Many Roma in France live in makeshift camps set up on waste ground, lacking running water or electricity. Without regular documentation of their residence, they have a hard time enrolling children into school, applying for subsidised housing, getting health care through the national system or finding permanent work. Amnesty said those problems are compounded with each forced evacuation, pushing the Roma further out to society's margins.
Roma started arriving in Europe from India in the 14th century and there are an estimated eight million in Europe, with the largest population in Romania. Facing discrimination and bleak prospects there, many head west to France and other richer European countries.
There are an estimated 20,000 Roma in France, a population that has remained stable over several years despite repeated attempts by both Socialist and conservative governments to persuade them - sometimes forcibly - to return home.
Many French blame the Roma for a rise in petty crime and an influx of street beggars, especially in tourist areas of Paris, where crime rings involving children have been broken up, and where subway announcements warn every few minutes against pickpockets.
In Sweden, police this week acknowledged compiling a secret, illegal registry of more than 4,000 Roma, including children, coming under criticism from politicians who said it was unconstitutional to register people by ethnicity.
French Interior Minister Manuel Valls provoked anger on Tuesday for saying the Roma migrants had a "duty to return to their homeland" - and despite a wave of criticism, refused to back down. He said the Roma had failed to integrate and that France had no responsibility to them.
"We don't have the obligation to welcome these populations, we need to say it clearly and calmly. It is not about stigmatising a population, but facing the truth," he said.
In Romania, Marian Mandache, director of rights group the Romani Criss, called the French minister's comments a "populist ruse."