France deported hundreds more Roma on Thursday in defiance of growing international unease about its crackdown on traveling minorities. Amnesty International said it was alarmed about the stigmatization of the Roma.
Around 300 Roma departed from airports in Paris and Lyon on Thursday in the latest wave of what the French government calls a voluntary repatriation scheme. The flights bring the total number of Roma expelled from France this year to more than 8,000.
A makeshift Roma camp was dismantled in the city of Lille
French police also dismantled a campsite in Lille as part of President Nicolas Sarkozy's major crackdown on crime that began earlier this month. Police have targeted the Roma community, along with other itinerant groups.
The crackdown has sparked major criticism at home and abroad. Former French prime minister Dominique de Villepin said Sarkozy's policies had left a "stain of shame" on the French flag and were a "national indignity."
Growing international condemnation
Human rights organization Amnesty International said Sarkozy risked stigmatizing the minority group.
"French officials should be working to fight discrimination, rather than making inflammatory statements linking entire communities to alleged criminality," the organization said in a statement.
Amnesty is alarmed that the rhetoric "could perpetuate negative stereotypes which contribute to the stigmatization of and discrimination against Roma and travelers."
Earlier this month a United Nations panel warned of mounting racism and xenophobia in France, citing the Roma evictions. The European Union's Justice Commissioner is currently reviewing whether the crackdown is legal.
Opinion polls show support for the crackdown
The French government insists it is simply clamping down on illegal immigration and trying to protect its citizens from crime, saying Roma camps are sources of people-trafficking and prostitution.
Amnesty International joined critics of Sarkozy's crackdown
Opinion polls in France showed solid public support for the expulsions, despite the widespread criticism. A survey published in Le Figaro said 69 percent of people questioned supported the dismantling of the Roma camps, and 65 percent backed the deportations.
More than 10 million Roma live in the EU, roughly a fifth of them in Romania. In France there are estimated to be about 15,000 Roma of Romanian and Bulgarian extraction.
Ministers say most of the deported Roma leave France voluntarily after accepting a payment of 300 euros (382 dollars) per adult and 100 euros per child.
Author: Joanna Impey (AFP/dpa/ Reuters)
Editor: Matt Zuvela