BY JAMES BOXELL IN PARIS
Nicolas Sarkozy’s attempts to force thousands of Roma migrants to leave France has done nothing to cut their numbers, a new report shows, prompting a fresh wave of criticism against a policy that has been compared with the treatment of Jews during the second world war.
Médecins du Monde, a French charity that has worked with the Roma community for decades, said on Tuesday that 10,000 Roma were leaving each year because of the French president’s decision to break up illegal gypsy camps.
In a highly critical examination of the government’s deportation policy – published on the anniversary of a now notorious speech by Mr Sarkozy calling for the dismantling of Roma camps – Médecins du Monde said the crackdown had led to a big rise in “pressure and intimidation” from the police, firebomb attacks on gypsy sites and the spread of disease within the community. Campaigners have warned of an intensification of camp clearances in the summer months.
The rate of incidents of tuberculosis in the Roma camps has reached 2.5 per cent as people are forced to move from site to site in ever more squalid conditions, according to Jean-François Corty, head of French operations at Médecins du Monde. A few years ago it was near the French average of 0.03 per cent of the population.
Mr Sarkozy’s targeting of the Roma community became a political flashpoint in a broader European Union debate about migration last summer, prompting comparisons with the Vichy regime’s treatment of Jews – claims vigorously rejected by government officials.
Recent figures from the French immigration and integration office show that the number of deportations – referred to as “humanitarian returns” – to Romania and Bulgaria actually declined in 2010.
Audrey Floersheim, who works for Médecins du Monde in Marseille, said while expulsions of camp-dwellers remained frequent, the number of Roma present in the city was stable at between 1,500 and 2,000. She said: “Even though large numbers of families return to Romania after an expulsion, most come back rapidly given the conditions of life over there.”
The National Front has responded to the evidence that the number of Roma in France has remained stable by calling for an even tougher line against the camps.
However, campaigners insist that the absence of any change in the population shows the folly of Mr Sarkozy’s policy, which they say is hampering efforts to provide proper vaccinations to the migrants and has removed access to water and electricity.
“These political expulsions provide no solution to the problem,” one aid worker said. “It only displaces the issue and makes an already fragile population even more precarious.”