France dismisses UN criticism on Roma round-up

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France on Friday dismissed as "caricatured" UN concerns over the expulsion of Roma Gypsies, insisting the policy is legal and denying that President Nicolas Sarkozy has stigmatised the minority.

Ministers reacted angrily to a report by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), which expressed concern that the round-up could amount to an illegal programme of "collective repatriation."

"We do not accept caricatures," Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said in his closing speech to an annual conference of French ambassadors, referring to the UN panel's report.

"Never has the president stigmatised a minority because of its origin," he added. "Never will we accept that a minority be penalised for being what it is."

This month, President Nicolas Sarkozy announced that French authorities are to dismantle some 300 unauthorised encampments used by both French Gypsies and members of the Roma minority born in Eastern Europe.

Those foreign-born Gypsies found to be living on French soil without means to support themselves are to be expelled back to Romania and Bulgaria. Those who go voluntarily receive small cash grants.

The panel said Sarkozy's round-up, which explicitly targets the Roma, could contravene various laws and treaties, but the French foreign ministry insisted the deportations respected all human rights norms.

"European law foresees two limits on residency rights: respect for public order and possession of sufficient resources to not impose an excessive burden on the host country's social welfare system," it said in a statement.

"These elements are judged on a specific basis for each individual case."

In the latest expulsions, France said it sent back 283 Roma on Thursday, bringing the total number of Romanian and Bulgarian Roma deported so far this year to 8,313, up from 7,875 expelled throughout last year.

The French government says most of the deported Romanians and Bulgarians leave voluntarily after accepting a payment of 300 euros (382 dollars) per adult and 100 euros per child.

"In only a minority of cases are departures carried out as forced deportations, under the authority of civil magistrates and judges, who rule on a case-by-case basis," Friday's statement said.

The foreign ministry statement said France is working closely with Romania and Bulgaria to improve conditions for the Roma minority in its homelands and dissuade them from returning.

France's Minister for European Affairs Pierre Lellouche told the ambassadors that the UN report "distinguishes itself by its excessive and caricatured character and by its numerous factual errors."

© 2010 AFP

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