Sofia vows to end mass Roma migration to EU

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Bulgaria, which hopes to join the European visa-free Schengen zone next year, said Tuesday it was taking measures to prevent a potential mass Roma migration to other European Union countries.

"We have tasked the ministry's regional directorates with preventing the organised migration of Roma into EU countries," Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov told foreign media in Sofia.

EU members Bulgaria and Romania hope to join the Schengen area in the first half of 2011, but the Roma question has injected tensions in bloc relations.

Hundreds of illegal Bulgarian and Romanian Roma migrants were repatriated this year from France, which has criticised the countries of origin for not improving their plight at home.

Italy has also cracked down on foreign Roma.

Observers here said the failure of the two Balkan countries to stem the exodus of their native Roma could well jeopardize their Schengen bids.

But Tsvetanov said the government was preparing "a complex strategy" uniting the efforts of different institutions to combat the problem of massive illegal migration, while seeking to better integrate the Roma.

The minister noted that Bulgaria was fully prepared to become a member and external border of the Schengen area after EU aid allowed it to boost controls at its frontiers.

Almost all EU countries are members of this area of free movement of people, except for Britain, Ireland, Bulgaria, Romania and Cyprus.

Bucharest and Sofia, which joined the EU in 2007, hope to join the Schengen area next March, but a European source told AFP on Friday that this would not be granted.

© 2010 AFP

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