France to step up deportations of foreign thieves, beggars
The French government, under fire for sending thousands of Roma back to Romania and Bulgaria, on Monday announced plans to step up deportations of foreigners caught stealing or begging aggressively.
Immigration Minister Eric Besson, outlining measures to fight illegal immigration and people trafficking originating in Romania and Bulgaria, announced plans to change the law to allow easier deportation of offenders.
"We must broaden the possibilities for issuing deportation orders (for people who pose) a threat to public order by repeated acts of theft or aggressive begging," he told reporters.
Besson said he planned to add two amendments to this end to an immigration bill that will be presented to parliament late next month.
The minister was speaking at a joint press conference with Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux, who noted that one in five thefts in the Paris area was carried out by Romanian citizens.
Crime by Romanians in the French capital rose by 259 percent over the past 18 months, he said.
French law bans the collection of crime statistics by ethnic groups, but Hortefeux has said authorities are allowed keep figures on crimes by foreign national groups. Many Romanians in Paris are from the Roma minority.
"Today in Paris the reality is that the perpetrator of one theft in five is a Romanian," he said, adding: "One theft in four committed by a minor is committed by a Romanian minor."
Hortefeux said the reality of the situation could be seen by any citizen "as he sees women and children spend entire days in appalling conditions in order to give their spoils to a master back in the home country."
France launched a country-wide crackdown on Roma earlier this month after a group of Gypsies allegedly attacked a police station.
The government deported 283 Roma last Thursday, bringing the total number of Romanian and Bulgarian Roma expelled so far this year to 8,313, up from 7,875 expelled throughout last year.
The crackdown has sparked international criticism, with the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) joining the outcry on Monday when it said France's policy risked stigmatising Roma and travelling minorities.
"Implicating the Roma and Travellers collectively in criminal activities based on individual cases could only contribute to stigmatising these communities," said Janez Lenarcic, director of the OSCE human rights office.
A United Nations anti-racism panel, members of the European parliament, the Vatican and human rights group Amnesty International have all criticised the crackdown.
The European Union is reviewing whether the policy is legal.
© 2010 AFP