US commission denounces France's Roma evictions
WASHINGTON — An independent US commission of elected officials that monitors human rights in Europe denounced Wednesday the controversial forced deportations of Roma from France to Romania and Bulgaria.
"The situation of Roma in Europe will not be fixed by playing a shell game with them," said Florida Democratic representative Alcee Hastings, co-chairman of from the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission.
"I perceive such actions as wrong-headed political maneuvers, particularly the discriminatory policy of targeting Roma for expulsion," Hastings added, saying that France and other countries "should focus on integrating Roma where they are."
French President Nicolas Sarkozy and his administration have been under fire for weeks, and now face possible legal action from the European Union for a policy of deporting members of the traveling communities.
The French government has in recent months expelled thousands of Roma, whom the government accuses of acts of criminality, including aggressive begging and theft.
"Minority communities are part of a larger fabric of society and we are all put at risk when those who seek to divide for political gain are allowed to take the lead," Hastings said in commission statement to Congress, at a hearing on the situation facing minorities in France.
French Ambassador Pierre Vimont insisted to US lawmakers however that there was "nothing like a collective action against this so called community," referring to the Roma.
The French government, he said, was "taking measures against individual citizens that are creating a problem relating mostly to public order."
France has charged that one in five thefts in the Paris area was carried out by a citizen of Romania, noting that many Romanians in Paris are from the Roma minority.
France has deported some 1,000 Roma migrants to Bulgaria and Romania since last month, and more than 8,000 Roma have been deported since the beginning of the year, after 9,875 were expelled in 2009.