Sunday, August 29, 2010



Friday, August 27, 2010 11:41 PM EDT

 Roma, the 'painted birds' of Europe
By Jijo jacob

Hundreds more of Roma were deported from France on Thursday despite widespread condemnation of President Sarkozy's Roma expulsion drive.

What comes to mind is the vivid image of the young, hunted and haunted, protagonist in Jerzy Kosinski's 1965 novel 'The Painted Bird' moving through Slavic villages in Eastern Europe fearing for his life all the time.

The novel is the deeply distressing tale of a young boy who is abandoned by his parents during the World War II and left to roam the war-afflicted region where his presence raises fear and reprisal among local communities.

The boy, thought to be Jewish or gypsy, suffers atrocious attacks and savage treatment from the people who fear his presence in their villages will attract the wrath of the German army.

The present-day visuals of the Roma deportation going on in France do not resemble the images of the young pariah in the Kosinski novel.

But indeed the boy is still a striking metaphor for the homeless, classless, and apparently stateless, Roma people who attract scorn, denial and blame in places where they live.

Of course the hunted down Roma in France are getting support from human rights groups and humanitarian individuals from around the world.

However, that hasn't stopped French President Nicolas Sarkozy from meticulously implementing his plan to deport hundreds of Roma from the country.

Pressure, though, is mounting both domestically and internationally to halt the government's move.

Around 300 Roma people have been expelled from France since the government commenced its latest Roma deportation effort last week.

President Sarkozy had ordered the expulsion of illegal Roma people staying in France in July. He had said he was ordering the expulsion of Roma people who had committed offenses. He said their illegal camps and settlements would be dismantled.

Over the last week, France's Interior Ministry has been razing to the ground around 300 illegal settlements in the county, out of which 200 belong to the Roma.

The Interior minister has said these camps "are the source of "illicit trafficking, children exploited for begging, prostitution or delinquency."

According to Radio Free Europe, as many as 8,300 Romanian and Bulgarian Roma have been deported from France so far this year. A total of 7,875 had been expelled in 2009.

The French government says it's acting in compliance with the EU statute which authorizes the repatriation of those who have been illegally staying in the country, without work, for more than three months.

An Amnesty International report has put the number of "itinerants or travelers with French nationality at around 400,000, among whom around 20,000 are Roma.

The government claims the repatriation is voluntary and that it pays around $400 to each Roma individual being expelled. Those who do not leave voluntarily will be sent out after 30 days, and without the relocation assistance, the government has said.

Critics have said the massive expulsion violates European Union laws. EU Commissioner for Justice Viviane Reding said on Thursday she will investigate whether the deportation policy violates EU's basic values.

France is home to between 15,000 and 20,000 Roma people. Years of discrimination, segregation and maltreatment have broken them down mentally, physically and sociologically.

The Roma facing the specter of expulsion are visibly angry and upset. The complain of unfair treatment, say they don't have the resource to return home to Romani and some even suggest that they might come back after a few months looking for jobs.

Roma are nomadic peopele scattered all over the world, principally in Europe, and they trace their origins to northern India.

According to Encycolpedia Britannica, Roma groups left India in repeated migrations hundreds of years ago. They were in Persia by the 11th century, and beleived to have reached southeastern Europe by the beginning of the 14th century.

Most Roma speak some form of Romany, a language closely related to the modern Indo-European languages of northern India, besides the language of the country in whcih they live.

Roma people living around Europe usually face discrimination, and sometimes even persecution, and they live constantly under the shadow of suspicion.

They face many discriminatory policies, the most potent one being housing segregation. The EU has termed Hungary, which is home to as many as 600,000 Roma people, as one of the worst offenders of housing segregation.

According to Médecins du Monde, Romas' living conditions are unhealthy and their life expectancy is considerably lower than those in mainstream communities.

Roma people have pointed out that their efforts towards integration into the societies they live are often set back by the inability to find work, sometimes denial of job opportunities.

France is not the only country that has attempted to purge itself of the Roma.

Italy, where close to 150,000 Roma people live, had earlier planned the shutting down of unauthorized camps and deportation of illegal residents. Italy's plan to fingerprint Roma living in camps had invited strong condemnation by the European Parliament.

Europe's Roman people are concentrated in countries like Hungary, Italy, Macedonia, Slovakia and Turkey.

According to a 2005 UNICEF report, about 3.7 million Roma people were living in Bulgaria, Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania and Serbia.

Roma people were persecuted by Nazis during World War II throughout Europe. According to records at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, almost 200,000 Roma were killed in Nazi concentration camps.

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