France says respecting international law on Roma expulsions

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France insisted on Friday it is "scrupulously respecting European law" and its "international undertakings" in its drive to expel Roma Gypsies, following criticism from the United Nations.

In response to concerns from the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), the French foreign ministry said the deportations were being carried out in accordance with all human rights norms.

"We accept criticism, it is part of how we advance human rights, but we reject any caricature of our actions," Francois Zimeray, France's ambassador for human rights, told AFP after CERD made its views known.

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.

Earlier Friday, a UN panel had expressed concern that Sarkozy's round-up, which explicitly targets the Roma, could amount to a programme of "collective repatriation" which would contravene various laws and treaties.

But the French statement, issued in the name of the foreign ministry spokesman, said that each case of expulsion was being handled individually.

"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.

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

"The departure of people residing illegally in France under these criteria are matched with an individual grant, which can help those concerned to re-enter social and professional life," it continued.

"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," it said.

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

© 2010 AFP

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