Bordeaux – France's crackdown on travelling minorities has not only targeted Roma from Eastern Europe, but also French Gypsies, who feel they have been unfairly linked to foreign-born nomads.
As media coverage focus on the expulsion of Roma back to Romania, hundreds of French-born Gypsy families find themselves in a stand-off with authorities in the southwestern city of Bordeaux.
President Nicolas Sarkozy's government has vowed to dismantle all illegal camps, not just those inhabited by foreign-born minorities, and 250 caravans arrived in Bordeaux only to find riot police waiting for them.
Traditionally, the travellers would set up camp on sports fields, but -- having been kicked out of another illegal site further south -- when they rolled up they found 150 police and a two-foot deep ditch barring access.
"This space is for sports," said Bordeaux mayor Alain Juppe, a powerful former prime minister and member of Sarkozy's ruling UMP. "There are people that use it for sports, playing tennis and jogging, and it's not set up to receive 250 caravans."
After initially protesting by blocking a major bridge across the Garonne River, and briefly skirmishing with police protecting the fields, the Gypsies went to court to demand access -- and were turned down.
President of "Life of travel" association, James Dubois, answers to journalists after a meeting with Bordeaux's mayor Alain Juppe. Juppe proposed to them a ground in Tourville to park.
Juppe's tough talk on illegal encampments came after Sarkozy vowed to clear 300 illegal Roma camps within 90 days and to repatriate foreign Roma. The policy has attracted fierce criticism from international human rights groups, the French opposition and even the Vatican, but the French Gypsies say they do not want to be dragged into a political row.
"We don't care about the politics of the left or the right," insisted Dubois. "All we want is a place to park our caravans so we can work."
The men complained they had already lost several days of work. The 140 families work as craftsmen and traders in local markets, selling products like mattresses and pots and pans.
A spokesman for the convoy felt the French Gypsies were being confused with foreign-born Roma. "There is an amalgamation at the national level. It's getting worse," said Jean Avrillas.
"We are not Roma and we have no contact with them," said Dubois. "We are clean. We are normal people. We are French."
Alissa de Carbonnel / AFP / Expatica
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