Amnesty slams France over Roma crackdown
Human rights body Amnesty International on Thursday joined international condemnation of France's Roma crackdown, saying President Nicolas Sarkozy risked fuelling stigmatisation of the minority group.
"French officials should be working to fight discrimination, rather than making inflammatory statements linking entire communities to alleged criminality," the organisation said in a statement.
French authorities have for several weeks been tearing down illegal Roma camps, rounding up their inhabitants and deporting them to Romania and Bulgaria, as part of Sarkozy's law and order drive.
Amnesty cited statements by Sarkozy at a government meeting last month in which he said Roma camps were sources of people trafficking and prostitution.
Amnesty "is alarmed that such statements were made by the president of the French Republic, as they could perpetuate negative stereotypes which contribute to the stigmatisation of and discrimination against Roma and Travellers."
A United Nations panel this month warned of mounting racism and xenophobia in France, citing the Roma evictions, and the European Union is reviewing whether the crackdown is legal. The Vatican has also criticised it.
The crackdown targets France's population of Roma, mostly from Romania and Bulgaria, estimated at around 15,000, plus French Gypsies and travelling people whose total numbers are estimated at 350,000.
The government said 283 Roma were sent home on Thursday.
Amnesty said it "reminds the French authorities of their obligations under international human rights law to guarantee the rights of all persons, including Roma and Travellers, to adequate housing.
"The French authorities cannot evict anyone from their home, even if it is in an irregular settlement, unless all other alternatives have been exhausted and they have consulted all affected residents."
The French government insists it is simply clamping down on illegal immigration and protecting citizens from crime and says its policies comply with EU law.
Ministers say most of the deported Romanians and Bulgarians leave voluntarily after accepting a payment of 300 euros (382 dollars) per adult and 100 euros per child.
© 2010 AFP