French minister backtracks on Roma comments
France's Interior Minister Manuel Valls appeared to backtrack Thursday on controversial remarks that Roma did not want to integrate, saying some could fit into French society.
The comments from the tough-talking Valls, whose earlier remarks about Roma sparked condemnation at home and abroad, came a day after one of the largest Roma camps in France was dismantled by police in a northern Paris suburb.
Valls told France Inter radio that "of course" there are some Roma families "who have real plans to integrate in France."
"There are also many families, many people who do not have such plans," he said.
Although France has been repatriating thousands of Roma back to Romania and Bulgaria, their numbers in the country -- estimated at around 20,000 -- have remained constant as they can immediately return under EU freedom of movement rules.
Romania and Bulgaria are not part of the visa-free Schengen zone as many countries including France oppose their entry.
But under the right of residence rules, all European Union citizens can move in another country for three months, after which they must prove they are not an "unreasonable burden" on the social assistance system.
Valls triggered outrage in September by saying that thousands of Roma not working in France should be "delivered back to the borders" and described their way of life as "extremely different from ours".
The comments earned Valls, the Barcelona-born son of Spanish immigrants, stinging rebukes from cabinet colleagues and criticism from the European Commission and human rights groups.
London-based rights group Amnesty International said such comments were likely to perpetuate stereotypes and encourage animosity towards Roma, most of whom live in illegal camps on the fringes of towns and cities.
© 2013 AFP