Roma pilgrims call on France to stop stigmatisation
Roma people gathering for a major pilgrimage in the southwestern Romanian town of Costesti on Wednesday called on France to stop stigmatising the minority.
"When a person of Roma ethnicity commits an infraction, you never talk about the individual, you just generalise," said Florin Cioaba, the self-titled "King of the Roma".
France has come in for heavy criticism after the expulsions of nearly 1,000 Roma to Bulgaria and Romania since the government of President Nicolas Sarkozy launched a high profile security crackdown in June.
"It's a shame. Especially since it is France, a democratic country which has laid the foundations of the European Union, which talks about human rights but violates them," said Cioaba at the pilgrimage for St Mary which was attended by thousands of Roma.
On Thursday, French Immigration Minister Eric Besson will travel to Bucharest to discuss the expulsions with senior Romanian officials including Prime Minster Emil Boc.
"I hope that what is happening in France will not be a spark for what will happen in the rest of Europe, (especially) in Spain and Italy where the Roma are well integrated and working," said Alecu Ionel, president of the Roma Alliance.
Roma at the pilgrimage who had lived in France complained of being tarred with the same brush as criminals.
"I don't understand why Roma are seen like this in France. Me, I worked morning to night at markets and festivals, it was very hard," said Angela, a 56-year-old woman who was selling clothes at the event.
Florina, a 37-year-old who also would not give her last name, said she had accepted a 300 euros (380 dollars) payment from France to leave the country.
"The French are good people. They helped us, gave us clothes, something to eat," said Florina, who lived in a makeshift hut near Paris and made a living collecting scrap metal and begging.
"Those who do bad things should be punished, but not everybody," she said.
© 2010 AFP