French ministerial circular targets Roma encampments
A French ministry document on clearing illegal camps, a copy of which was obtained by AFP on Friday, explicitly targets the Roma community contrary to the official government assurances.
The interior ministry circular, directed at the governors of the French regions and intended for internal use only, says that 300 illegal camps have to cleared within three months "the priority, those of the Roma."
The circular, dated August 5, appears to contradict a statement issued Thursday by Immigration Minister Eric Besson that Franch is not targeting the Roma.
"France has taken no specific measure regarding the Roma," Besson said in the statement.
The statement was issued amid growing international criticism of France's crackdown on the camps and the expulsion of hundreds of Roma back to Bulgaria and Romania.
The minister's statement was in response to a motion from the European Parliament on Thursday that called on France to halt its the expulsions.
Besson ruled out any suspension of the policy and accused the parliament of caricaturing the French government's position.
"The Roma are not considered as Roma as such but as citizens of their country of nationality," said Besson.
"France is not engaged in any collective expulsion," he added.
But the preamble to the interior ministry circular recalls the targets set by President Nicolas Sarkozy and repeatedly singles out the Roma.
"Three hundred illegal camps or sites must be evacuated in three months, in priority those of the Roma," it says.
"So it is for each department (region), to the governors to commit to ... systematic action to dismantle the illegal camps, in priority those of the Roma."
The circular was released about a week after the president launched the controversial initiative in late July.
Sarkozy summoned his ministers and police chiefs to review what he dubbed "the situation of travelling people and Roma and the problems that certain members of these communities pose to public order and safety."
Since then, around a thousand Roma have been expelled from the country, with those who leave voluntarily receiving 300 euros from the French government.
On Thursday, after a meeting between French and Romanian ministers in Bucharest, France agreed to help Romania integrate its Roma community into mainstream society to encourage them to stay in the country.
On Friday, Sarkozy and his Romanian counterpart Traian Basescu held a telephone discussion during which they reached "complete agreement to provide an efficient response to the problem posed by the integration of the Roma", the French president's office said in a statement.
© 2010 AFP