Bulgaria unconcerned by France's Roma expulsions

25th August 2010, Comments 0 comments

Bulgaria's foreign minister on Wednesday refused to criticise France over its controversial crackdown on Roma and Gypsy camps that has seen hundreds of people flown back to Romania and Bulgaria.

Nikolai Mladenov said in a television interview the "problem (of the return of the Roma) has been wrongly exaggerated... it's a domestic political debate in France".

A first group of 13 Roma arrived on Friday in Sofia with a second group of 11 expected later Wednesday. Nine more were due to return on September 10 and more in the second half of September.

The total number of Roma returning to Bulgaria from France, however, was not expected to be more than 50 as the majority were being returned to Romania, according to the Bulgarian foreign ministry.

Mladenov assured France's European Affairs Minister Pierre Lellouche in a telephone conversation Tuesday of the "understanding" of the Bulgarian government, adding that "Bulgarian citizens are obliged to respect the laws of the (host) country".

Amid fierce criticism from opposition politicians and human rights groups, France has flown about 635 Roma back to Romania and Bulgaria since the end of July on a so-called "voluntary basis" and with a 300-euro (385-dollar) handout for every adult.

Bulgarian Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov has also played down France's crackdown saying "there is nothing worrying in France's position" because "15 to 20 people are sent back to Bulgaria each month from different countries in the European Union."

Although the departures are meant to be voluntary, any foreign-born Roma caught up in French President Nicolas Sarkozy's crackdown on illegal camps who refuses to take a flight will be ordered to leave France without the handout.

France expelled around 10,000 Roma to Romania and Bulgaria last year, but the latest flights were the first since Sarkozy announced a tough law and order crackdown that explicitly linked crime and immigration.

© 2010 AFP

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