Romanian activists slam president's 'racist' Roma remarks
Romanian rights groups on Friday condemned "racist" remarks by President Traian Basescu on the Roma and called into question the authorities' will to integrate the impoverished minority.
On a visit to Slovenia Wednesday, Basescu had said: "There is a problem that makes it difficult to integrate the nomad Roma: very few of them are willing to work and many of them live traditionally on what they steal."
In an open letter published Friday, a coalition of rights groups wrote that "these remarks are nothing new, but rather just the latest episode ... in the stigmatization of the Roma by top Romanian officials."
"This type of message, based on partial or false information, reinforces the generalised hatred and the stereotypes against this minority," they added.
Basescu's statement came in the context of the French authorities' crackdown on Roma migrants, several thousands of whom have been expelled to Romania and Bulgaria in recent months.
While Paris has criticised the countries of origin for not making enough efforts to improve the plight of the Roma, Bucharest says France and other western countries should themselves do more to integrate them.
"The Roma exercising their freedom of movement in the European Union are not nomads, as Basescu said, but simply seeking a better life, pushed by poverty and marginalization," the rights groups stressed.
Romania's Roma community is the biggest in Europe: while the official census puts the figure at 530,000 people, some pressure groups say it is as high as 2.5 million, explaining that most Roma do not declare themselves as such for fear of discrimination.
© 2010 AFP