Sunday, September 2, 2012


“You can find scrap metal, you have money,” Ms. Dragoi said in hesitant French. Mr. Hollande raised her spirits, too, she said, with campaign promises to better integrate France’s immigrant Roma into French society. His predecessor,Nicolas Sarkozy, ordered the razing of Roma camps and the deportation of thousands of Romanian and Bulgarian Roma who, without work permits, had passed the three-month limit to their stay. (As citizens of European Union member nations, however, they were entitled to return immediately, and many did, including Ms. Dragoi.)
But Mr. Hollande’s government now intends to raze this camp, a clutch of rubble and shacks built of trash inhabited by about 200 Roma men, women and children. Perhaps, Ms. Dragoi wondered aloud, the expulsion order will be annulled.
“We are hoping,” she said. “We don’t know how he is yet, Hollande.”
During his campaign, Mr. Hollande pledged that Roma camps would be razed only if “alternative solutions” were available. “We cannot continue to accept that families be chased out of a place without a solution,” Mr. Hollande wrote in a letter to humanitarian groups, criticizing Mr. Sarkozy’s aggressive approach to the encampments.
Just a few months into his presidency, however, Mr. Hollande’s approach has proved to be quite like that of his predecessor, who drew broad criticism — not least from Mr. Hollande’s Socialist Party — for his campaign against the Roma camps, which he called sources of filth and crime. The authorities have bulldozed several camps this summer, leaving perhaps 2,000 or more people effectively homeless.
While the government has recently lifted some employment restrictions on Romanians and Bulgarians — most foreign Roma here are from those two nations — critics say too little is being done, still, to bring the Roma into the fold of French society.
The demolitions outside Paris, Lille and Lyon have been met with consternation from aid organizations, some news outlets and French lawmakers. The operations do little more than deepen the suffering of a population that is already destitute, they say.
“All of this is particularly disappointing because, obviously, the approach taken by the administration of the former president, Nicolas Sarkozy, had enormous implications in terms of human rights violations,” said Tara Bedard, programs director at the European Roma Rights Center.
Rita Izsak, the United Nations independent expert on minority issues, said in a statement that “the Roma are European Union citizens and Europe’s most marginalized minority.” She deplored the “discriminatory treatment” that they continue to receive in France.
Spread among several hundred illegal encampments, an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 foreign Roma reside in France, a number that has not varied much since the fall of the Iron Curtain. When deported, they often return, fleeing discrimination and poverty in Romania and Bulgaria.
Polling suggests that the expulsions are overwhelmingly popular with the French electorate, including with Mr. Hollande’s constituents on the left, and the president is eager to counter accusations from the right that the Socialists are soft on crime.
“The left in power is not just about indignation, it’s about acting, it’s about acting against these camps,” the interior minister, Manuel Valls, told the radio station France Inter. Court orders for the demolitions, typically requested by local officials concerned about the crime and the begging that emanate from the camps, will be carried out, Mr. Valls said. But he pledged that “insertion measures” would be “progressively” applied.
“It’s this, a politics of the left,” he said. “It’s, at once, enforcing the law, and at the same time making sure that integration, justice — through schooling, through training, through work — become realities.” In a directive published this week, the government asked officials across the country to propose solutions for Roma when possible, and announced that it would be studying successful local initiatives.
Still, the “real solution” lies in the countries of origin, Mr. Valls said, which must do more to integrate their own citizens and have received a great deal of European financing to do so. He and the European affairs minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, are to meet soon with officials in Romania and Bulgaria to discuss the Roma.
In France, rights groups have long called for the lifting of the work and travel restrictions that affect the Roma. The restrictions, put in place in France and elsewhere in 2007 upon the entry of Romania and Bulgaria into the European Union, require that Romanians and Bulgarians obtain work permits — other European citizens face no such requirement — and limit their employment to certain industries. Until the government altered the legislation this week, employers were required to pay a tax of about $900 for each person hired.
Jobs will remain difficult to find, though, with the economy sputtering and unemployment at more than 10 percent, and the remaining employment and travel restrictions are set to expire in 2014.
“They have a year and a half to fully open the labor market to citizens of Romania and Bulgaria,” said Ms. Bedard, of the European Roma Rights Center. “I really can’t see the point of taking half-steps at this point.
“We’d like to see the French government acknowledge that the way they’ve dealt with the situation until now has not produced many positive results,” Ms. Bedard continued, noting that a vast majority of foreign Roma in France still lived at the margins of society.
In La Courneuve, another Paris suburb, Aurel Beadai lives in a cluster of dilapidated white and beige trailers, packed together on a patch of rock and dirt not far from a highway overpass. He arrived here a month ago with his family.
“If I could make a living in Romania, I would not come to France,” said Mr. Beadai, 32, seated on his parents’ bed inside the tiny trailer where he stays with his wife, mother, father and two young sons.
He collects scrap metal in the streets, piling it into a stolen supermarket cart to be sold and melted down in the neighboring city of Le Bourget. He earns as much as $25 for a day’s work, he said, and he has found shoes and clothing for his family in the trash. It is not easy, he said through an interpreter, but it is better than in Romania, where he worked for a time as a street cleaner but sometimes had no money to eat.
“We hope he’s going to do better, that he’s going to make a place for the Roma,” Mr. Beadai said of the French president. Still, there is an expulsion order for mid-September here.

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