Wednesday, September 1, 2010


Controversy swirls over Canada's part in Roma debate


By Peter O'Neil, Europe Correspondent,
Postmedia News
August 27, 2010

PHOTO Romanian Roma people coming from France are pictured as they arrive at the Baneasa airport in Bucharest, Romania on August 19.
Photograph by: Daniel Mihailescu, AFP/Getty Images

PARIS — Canada is being drawn into the controversy over President Nicholas Sarkozy's controversial initiative to expel Roma migrants, with Immigration Minister Jason Kenney coming under criticism for agreeing to attend a France-hosted meeting here next week that has been described by some as an "anti-Roma" gathering.

That in turn has led to criticism from Liberal MP Ujjal Dosanjh, the former B.C. premier and federal cabinet minister who has arranged to visit Roma camps and meet with senior French officials and rights groups in mid-September.

"By attending this meeting Mr. Kenney is sending the message that he agrees with the far-right policies of President Sarkozy," Dosanjh told Postmedia News Friday.

France, according to Dosanjh, is violating European Union law by deliberately targeting the Roma and should therefore be openly condemned by the Canadian government.

But a spokesman for Kenney rejected the Liberal attempt to link the Canadian government into a French initiative against Roma, which has resulted in criticism from the Vatican, the Council of Europe and groups like Amnesty International.

The meeting of Italian, Spanish, German and British officials was initiated in June after French Immigration Minister Eric Besson met with Kenney in Ottawa and invited Canada to participate on "a range of immigration and refugee issues" with other European officials, according to spokesman Alykhan Velshi.

"The status of European Roma was neither raised nor discussed in his meeting with Minister Besson."

The meeting took on a more controversial nature, however, when Italian interior minister Roberto Maroni, of Italy's far-right Northern League, said this week that he'd use the gathering to push for tougher measures to crack down on Roma migrants.

France is expected to expel almost 1,000 Roma this month as part of a high-profile "security" campaign by Sarkozy that is widely viewed here as an attempt to deflect criticism on other matters, and as a bid to woo supporters from France's far-right National Front party.

On Friday a United Nations anti-racism committee rebuked France over the crackdown, urging the government here to do more to integrate the Roma — or Gypsy — minority and fight against anti-Roma comments by politicians.

A report earlier this week in the Brussels-based EUobserver website, under the headline "French 'anti-Roma' summit disturbs EU presidency," quoted unnamed officials saying Belgium — which holds the rotating European presidency — was reluctant to attend the meeting.

The report said Canada was being invited because of its own experience with Roma migrants.

The Canadian government last year ended the right of Czech citizens to visit Canada without visas due to a flood of Roma refugee claims. Ottawa is believed to be considering a similar move against Hungary due to a rise in asylum claims from that country.

A poll Friday published in the pro-Sarkozy newspaper Le Figaro indicated that roughly two-thirds of French citizens support the Roma measures.

Sarkozy's government is waging an international campaign to win support, with Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner urging all his ambassadors assembled here this week to defend France's "security" initiative.

France is offering families 300 euros per adult (about $405) and 100 euros per child. While such eviction moves are common in France, the high-profile nature of the campaign this month has drawn huge criticism.

While France is legally entitled to expel non-nationals from EU countries who arrive and are unable to find work after being here three months, the EU prohibits member states from targeting groups based on race.

"These people aren't being targeted because they are Romanian or Bulgarian. It is because they are part of an ethnic group," said Lucia Presber, a Canadian at the University of Paris and a specialist on Roma issues.

She said Canada's participation in Europe's debate is important because the country is recognized internationally as a "role model" on human rights.

"Canada could lose that reputation if it is seen as siding with Sarkozy."

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