Wednesday, July 28, 2010
Wednesday, July 28, 2010 10:03 AM
From: "ERIO News" email@example.com
Nicolas Sarkozy gets tough on France's itinerant groups
Lizzy Davies in Paris
Nicolas Sarkozy has been criticised over plans to clamp down on Traveller, Gypsy and Roma populations. Photograph: Eric Feferberg/AFP/ Getty Images
27/07/2010 - Nicolas Sarkozy has been accused of stigmatising one of France's most marginalised communities as he prepares to hold a meeting at the Elysee Palace tomorrow to discuss tough new strategies for dealing with the Traveller, Gypsy and Roma populations.
n a sign that the right-wing president is looking for fresh ways to boost his law and order credentials, Sarkozy announced the meeting last week in a bid to evaluate the situation nationwide and to order "the expulsion of all illegal encampments" .
After a group of Travellers went on the rampage in the quiet village of Saint Aignan on 18 July – burning cars, attacking the police station and hacking at trees – the president said events had underlined "the problems caused by the behaviour of some Travellers and Roma".
The youths rioted hours after a friend, Luigi Duquenet, a 22-year-old robbery suspect, had been shot dead by a policeman. The exact circumstances of Duquenet's death remain unclear.
Sarkozy's decision to use the incident as the basis for a generalised crackdown on itinerant people's encampments has provoked anger in opposition and human rights circles, where the president is seen as preying on fear and social divides to reinforce his own hardline image.
France's estimated 400,000 Travellers already have to undergo regular police checks and critics fear they are at risk of becoming the scapegoats of a government in need of a populist boost.
Sarkozy's approval ratings are at an all-time low and his government has been battered by the so-called Bettencourt affair.
"We are concerned by the fact that the reaction of the French president to a series of specific events appears to target the Roma and Travellers in general and to perpetuate the negative stereotypes of which they are victim," said David Diaz-Joeix, deputy head of Amnesty International' s Europe and central Asia programme.
"The French authorities should instead be trying to combat the legal and social discrimination from which these people have long suffered," he added.
Today Europe minister Pierre Lellouche defended the meeting due to be held tomorrow afternoon, insisting that an influx of Roma from Romania and Bulgaria since those countries' EU accession in 2007 had caused crime to rocket in France.
"Very few of the people coming here try to integrate, to fit in, and huge numbers of minors are involved in drug trafficking networks," he told French radio.
"There is no question of stigmatising a community … but we are faced with a real problem and the time has come to deal with it," he said in a separate interview.
Malik Salemkour of the French human rights league said the meeting "gives the impression that all Travellers and all Roma are criminals and delinquents" .
Benoit Hamon, spokesman for the Socialist party, added: "The stigmatisation of a population in and of itself is scandalous.
"If you replace the Roma and Travellers with something else, like the Bretons or people from the Auvergne region … you will see that, quite naturally, it is shocking."
Others point out that the government is lumping together long-standing and almost entirely French populations with new arrivals from eastern Europe, when the different groups have little in common apart from their itinerant lifestyle.
This is not the first time Sarkozy, who before his election in 2007 was the country's tough-on-crime interior minister, has been accused of exacerbating social tensions for his own political gain. Last year he embarked on a much-derided quest for "national identity", an exercise which critics said had more to do with deciding who and what was not French rather than who or what was. Before that, he imposed a harsh new quota-driven expulsion policy for illegal immigrants, and, while still interior minister, caused outrage by referring to youths in city suburbs as "scum".
Link: http://www.guardian .co.uk/world/ 2010/jul/ 27/france- nicolas-sarkozy- roma-gypsy
Posted by Morgan at 2:21 PM