FROM REUTERS UK.
BY BRIAN LOVE
Reuters) - France will make it easier for Roma immigrants from eastern Europe to obtain work and residence rights, the government said on Wednesday, after years of expulsions and more police raids this month on makeshift campsites where they often live in squalor.
Socialist Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, under pressure to break with a practice the left condemned when conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy was in charge, announced the policy shift after meetings with leading ministers and representatives of the estimated 15-20,000 Roma people living in France.
Ayrault stopped short of promising to waive EU-approved rules that restrict job market access to citizens of Romania and Bulgaria, the native countries of many Roma, until the end of 2013. He said that was an issue France would now start to examine while more modest measures were undertaken first.
One of the main changes is a pledge to waive a hefty tax French employers must pay to the immigration office if they hire a Romanian or Bulgarian worker - a levy that can run as high as 1,800 euros (1,420 pounds), government figures show.
A government-approved list of jobs that are considered open to Roma people, which now stands at 150 and includes trades such as roofers, will be extended, according to a statement by Ayrault's office.
Two weeks ago, police evicted around 300 people from illegal campsites near the cities of Lille and Lyon and sent 240 of them on a plane back to Romania. The swoops recalled a crackdown two years before for which Sarkozy drew international criticism.
While Romania and Bulgaria have been members of the European Union since 2007, their citizens - Roma included - are subject to curbs on employment elsewhere in the EU until the end of 2013 imposed to slow what some countries at the time feared would be an excessive influx of immigrants looking for work and welfare.
Romanians and Bulgarians must now get work permits to stay legally beyond three months in a host country, meaning that many end up going underground and living in camps near motorway junctions on the edges of major cities, once their time is up.
"The Roma people are EU citizens like anyone else and would like to work like anyone else," Malik Salemkour, a human rights activist who met Ayrault with others to argue for change, told reporters.
The Brussels-based European Commission, which has the job of monitoring respect for EU treaties and clashed with Sarkozy over the immigrant issue, said it was again monitoring the situation in France after the early-August raids.
The Council of Europe, a broader governmental organisation dedicated to ensuring respect for human right, has also urged France to seek a lasting solution for Roma immigrants, most of whom fled poverty and sometimes persecution in their homelands.
Socialist President Francois Hollande promised a solution to the Roma issue during his election campaign.
(Additional reporting by Chine Labbe; Editing by Mark Heinrich)
PARIS — The French government may not know what to do with them but Roma migrants living rough on the streets of Paris believe a solution to their plight is straightforward.
"I want to work," said Marcel Stoican, a 24-year-old father who was part of a small group of families camping Wednesday on the Place de la Republique in the centre of the capital.
As government ministers met for emergency talks on the handling of an estimated 15,000 Roma currently living in camps across France, Stoican explained his reasons for leaving his native Romania.
"I'm a stonemason, but I can also do metal work or painting. Back in Romania the most I can expect to earn is five to ten euros a day. We are outcasts there."
For most Roma, if they can find a job in France, the odds are that it will be illegal. In practice many survive through a combination of begging and scavenging from bins.
Yelena, a 31-year-old mother of three, has been living on the tiny bit of grass that separates the two sides of the Boulevard Richard Lenoir for the last six months.
As she proudly showing off her new baby, her other children, Christina, 12, and Andrea, 5, looked on, nibbling at biscuits given to them by a passer-by.
"Here, people are kind to us. They give us things," she said. However precarious her position in France, it seems like a better option than a return to Romania. "My children's life is here."
France has come under fire for dismantling Roma camps and repatriating hundreds of the migrants to Romania -- a strategy deemed futile by many as there is nothing to stop them coming straight back.
That is what Vasile Mitica, 30, did. "I simply want my children to go to school," he said. "They told us there was work in France so I got on the bus and came."
With larger camps now vulnerable to being cleared, many Roma in the Paris region are now opting to gather in smaller groups where they are less obvious, although their presence in the 11th arrondissement has not gone down well with local cafe owners.
"They're everywhere," complained Paulo Goncalves, the owner of the Falstaff bar.
"They never stop hustling and hassling people, they steal tips from the tables. It's not the Place de la Bastille anymore, it's the Place des Roms."
With criticism of their treatment of the Roma mounting, the French government met Wednesday to review its approach to the issue.
Ministers decided to abolish a charge of up to 300 euros (375 dollars) that employers currently have to pay to employ Bulgarian or Romanian nationals and that the list of jobs these nationals can apply for will be enlarged.
But Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault's office said that the much-criticised dismantling of illegal Roma camps would continue if these operations are carried out after a court order.
France is one of a number of European Union countries which declined to grant Bulgarian and Romanian workers unrestricted access to their labour markets following the two countries' 2007 accession to the EU.
Critics argue that the policy puts Roma migrants in an invidious position since they can be deported because they cannot demonstrate that they can support themselves but, at the same time, they cannot seek work legally.
One of the EU's founding principles is that citizens should be able to work in any member state, and the transitional arrangements permitted when Bulgaria and Romania joined must be phased out by the end of 2013 in any case.