Roma exit France momentarily to show crackdown 'absurdity'
Three Roma facing deportation from France walked 100 metres (yards) into Belgium on Thursday and then returned in order to show the "absurdity" of the crackdown on travellers, their lawyer said.
"The Roma have executed their deportation order, which now becomes invalid, and can return to French territory in all legality as European citizens," said Antoine Berthe, a specialist in immigration law.
An AFP journalist watched as Berthe's clients left French territory near the northern town of Armentieres and walked over the border and past a sign saying "Belgium" before returning to France.
Berthe said the brief frontier crossing "aimed to demonstrate the absurdity of French government policy towards Roma."
There are an estimated 15,000 Roma from European Union member states Bulgaria and Romania living in France.
Under EU freedom of movement laws, they are entitled to stay for three months without a permanent residence or job, but after that period can be deported if they have not found work or started a course of study.
Berthe argues that, by making a brief foray into Belgium, his clients have renewed their stay in France and earned another three months grace.
France has deported almost 1,000 Roma migrants to Bulgaria and Romania since President Nicolas Sarkozy's government launched a high-profile security crackdown in July.
More than 8,000 Roma have been deported from France since the beginning of the year, with 9,875 expelled throughout last year.
Sarkozy's round-up has attracted harsh criticism at home and abroad, with European and UN experts arguing that it amounts to a collective punishment and the French leader's ministers insisting each case is treated individually.
© 2010 AFP