Attack on Roma Teen in Paris Suburb Begs Bigger Questions

An evacuated Roma camp near Marseille in October, 2013. Photo: AFP/Getty Images.

An evacuated Roma camp near Marseille in October 2013. Photo: AFP/Getty Images.

Darius, a sixteen-year-old Roma teenager was found nearly beaten to death in a shopping cart on Friday in a housing project outside of Paris. This story has made it into the headlines of the major French and some international press outlets. Called a “lynching” by Le Monde, the event has sparked the ongoing discussion about the situation of the Roma population in France.

Darius was reportedly placed in a medically-induced coma after being beaten by about a dozen people. He was taken from his home in a Roma camp in the Parisian suburb of Seine-Saint-Denis, apparently to blame for a series of petty burglaries in the surrounding areas (including the housing project where he was found).

According to Darius’ family, after the attackers kidnapped Darius they called his family demanding a ransom of €15,000 and threated to burn down the encampment if the police were called. The Roma had set up camp there about three weeks ago, a nearby resident Ion Vardu told France 24. He went on to explain that after the attack, “they left immediately.” The campsite is now vacant.

French President François Hollande condemned the attack as “an offense against the founding principles of our country.”

France prides itself on a “color-blind” model of public policy that does not record its citizens’ ethnicities and makes it illegal to single out any race or nationality. But in April 2014 a note was leaked from the Paris police force with instructions to “systematically evict” the Roma gypsies in the city’s sixth arrondissement. Stéphane Le Foll, a spokesman for France’s Parti socialiste (PS), said at the time, “We must try and get them to return to where they came from, to Romania or Bulgaria.”

The Roma people originate from the Gange Valley in Northern India, but have been dispersed for centuries, with their first documented move to Western Europe in the 14th century. According to the “Voice of the Roma” organization, “The Roma are a people without a compact territory, who have never had territorial borders but who are connected by a collective identity, an origin, a common culture and common languages.” The organization is also very specific about differentiating the Roma from ethnic Romanians. However, much of the population of Roma in France have indeed moved there from Romania and Bulgaria, the EU’s poorest members.

The minority has been the repeated victim of discrimination and persecution. For example, Nazi Germany attempted a genocide of the Roma, and the Czech Republic and Slovakia have also carried out programs sterilizing Romani women. The League of Human Rights in the Czech Republic alleges that the most recent sterilization happened in 2004.

About 17,000 Roma are thought to be living in France, according to the government. To deal with the situation of thousands of people living in squalid temporary camps, the government has taken to razing them. Nearly 20,000 Roma were evicted from France in 2013, according to Amnesty International.

In 2013 the EU threated France with sanctions when Manuel Valls, current Prime Minister but then-Minister of the Interior, said that most Roma should be deported and that France was “not here to welcome these populations.” European commission spokesman Olivier Bailly said at the time, “Roma, like all EU citizens, have the freedom to circulate freely in all member states of the EU and to live in a country other than their country of origin.”

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