Bulgaria, Romania join French efforts against Roma offenders

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Bulgaria and Romania joined efforts with France on Thursday to find a solution to illegal Roma migration, following calls from Paris to close down migrant camps and expel offenders, which triggered protests by Roma rights activists.

"Bulgaria and Romania are undertaking joint efforts to bring back Romas who have violated law and order in France," Bulgarian Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov told journalists.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy had said earlier that members of the itinerant minorities, mostly from Romania and Bulgaria, posed security problems by engaging in crimes such as smuggling, people trafficking, prostitution and theft.

Sofia was already exchanging information with Paris to determine the number and identity of the arrested Roma offenders to be deported, Tsvetanov added.

On Wednesday, before France's decision to expel Roma and tear down illegal camps, Romanian Prime Minister Emil Boc said European countries "have a mutual obligation concerning the Roma issues."

Foreign Affairs minister Teodor Baconschi also stressed that the nine million Roma living in the European Union were "European citizens" and their freedom of movement could not be impeded.

"The problem with the security of citizens and respect for the law comes up often and has to be addressed... on the basis of real cooperation between the states," Romania's Justice Minister Catalin Predoiu told Mediafax news agency.

"Cooperation does not mean using bulldozers to destroy the camps and publicly blame Romania," he said, but added that Bucarest was open to working with French experts on common projects to integrate the migrants.

Surprisingly, France's move won approval by Bulgaria's Roma community of some 800,000 people, with their largest Euroroma party giving "unconditional support" to Sarkozy's efforts, in a special statement to the French embassy in Sofia, obtained by AFP.

"No one has the right to abuse the traditionally established tolerant multi-ethnic relations in France," party leader Tsvetelin Kanchev said.

"It is high time to call things by their real name... We urge an even stricter approach against some of the offenders, namely those involved in procuring," Kanchev told AFP.

Rights groups across Europe however blasted France's decision, saying it violated human rights.

The Hungary-based European Roma Rights Centre issued a statement, calling for "an end to plans which would lead to gross human rights violations of these marginalised groups."

"France's decision to expel Roma communities without treating people case by case is a violation of human rights," Magda Matache, head of the Romani Criss NGO, also told AFP in Bucarest.

"Saying that Roma who committed crimes will be expelled is a severe violation of the freedom of movement," Gelu Duminica, head of the association Impreuna (Together), told AFP.

According to him though, France's decisions are "partially justified."

"If Romanian authorities do nothing to improve the conditions of this minority, hit by severe poverty and suffering for limited access to education and jobs, they cannot call on Europe to resolve this issue," he added.

Romania is home to one of the biggest Roma communities in Europe. It counts about 535,000 people officially, but is probably closer to 2.5 million people, according to non-governmental organisations.

An estimated 800,000 Romas also live in neighbouring Bulgaria, where discrimination, lack of education and work prospects often plunged them in severe poverty.

© 2010 AFP

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