Roma Evacuations Across France Leave Policy Questions Unanswered

MRAP poster. It reads "Roms, Tziganes, Gypsies, all our brothers." Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Trace

MRAP poster. It reads “Roms, Tziganes, Gypsies, all our brothers.”
Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Trace

After a period of relative calm at the end of 2012, Sarkozy-like evacuations of the Roma have sprung up throughout France in the new year. Commonly known as “gypsies,” the Roma are a nomadic group originating mainly from Romania and Bulgaria. They are often the topic of extremely tense debates centering on immigration and government spending. Often labeled as liars, thieves, and cheats, they are commonly misunderstood as a group and are blamed for numerous problems.

“The season of expulsions has begun,” said Jean Philip, activist of MRAP Rhône – Movement against racism and for friendship among the people – “It’s a real manhunt.”

On March 28, twelve Roma families were evacuated from a camp in the Rhône, just outside of Lyon. The families stayed in a parish for the night at the Notre-Dame des Anges church in the 7th arrondissement of Lyon. Father Matthieu Thouvenot, along with Secours Catholique and MRAP, stayed with the families.

On Wednesday, April 1, the Roma filed a complaint at the city hall. The court sentenced the city’s prefect, Jean-François Carenco, to find emergency housing for ten of the families within four days, and will be fined 75 euro per family per day for every day after. Carenco said that “the Rhone department was the most generous in France, and it is not reasonable to think that in Lyon, we can welcome everyone. I assume that is what I am doing.”

In the North, in the urban area of Lille, 36 people were evacuated following a fire on March 31.

In another case, a camp of 250 Roma established in April 2012 in Ris-Orangis, just outside of Paris, was evacuated on April 3. The town ordered the evacuation because of security risks. In this case, the families were proposed temporary housing arrangements. The families gathered outside a church in the town, but police and gendarmes forbid them from entering, said Colette Olczyk, member of the Association of Solidarity with Roma and Romani families in Essonne (ASEFRR), according to Le Point.

The European Association for the Defense of Human Rights reported that about four thousand Roma have been displaced from their homes since the first of January this year. Of them, approximately 2,900 were pressured to do so by the authorities, and 1,000 were threatened by fire or violence.

Only fifteen of the forty evacuations included temporary housing solutions for the displaced Roma. Those who are not provided with anything end up in local parishes, in shantytowns, or on the streets.

At this point, there is frustration among the Roma as well as activist groups. Laurent El Ghozi, founder of Romeurope, in a report from Le Monde, explained that “we are worried and angry… The Minister of the Interior is evacuating, the Minister of Labor is adjusting work conditions, while the Minister of Housing is trying to find housing solutions.”

This failure to find solutions has radicalized the rejection of the Roma throughout France.

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