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France rebuffs UN criticism of its Roma expulsion program

The French Foreign Ministry rejected claims by the UN that its drive to expel Roma travelers contravenes international law. A UN committee has urged France to do more to integrate Roma in French society.

Roma boy carrying a suitcase on his back at the airport

France has faced harsh criticism for its crackdown on Roma travelers

France insisted on Friday that it is "scrupulously respecting European law" and its "international commitments," rebuffing criticism from the United Nations that its current policy with regards to Roma gypsies could amount to "collective repatriation."

"European law foresees two limits on residency rights, respect for public order and possession of sufficient resources to not impose an excessive burden on the host country's social welfare system," a statement from the Foreign Ministry stated.

Nicholas Sarkozy

French President Sarkozy's tough law and order rhetoric helped him get elected in 2007

The UN Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) have voiced concern at France's move to dismantle 300 illegal Roma camps and send thousands of Roma to Romania and Bulgaria.

"Our concern is that the removal or return of the Roma has been done on a collective basis rather than examining their individual circumstances so it gives the appearance that a group has been identified rather than individuals," said Pierre-Richard Prosper, who headed the 18-expert panel's review of France's actions.

The UN committee said France is violating a 1969 treaty that prohibits barriers based on race, color, descent or national or ethnic origin.

"Racist and xenophobic discourse"

French Minister for European Affairs Pierre Lellouche defended France's policies of deporting Roma and banning the full-face Islamic veil.

"This report ... distinguishes itself by its excessive and caricatured character and by its numerous factual errors," Lellouche told an audience of French ambassadors meeting at their annual conference in Paris.

He added that the measures were all intended to protect "the most important human right, that of security."

A Roma family in a makeshift camp in Saint Denis, a northern suburb of Paris

France is set to dismantle some 300 Roma camps

The French crackdown on Roma has already seen some 8,000 people expelled this year. Those who leave of their own accord, get a cash bonus of 300 euros ($380) and 100 euros for each child.

France has insisted each case is handled individually and that "in only a minority of cases are departures carried out as forced deportations," according to the statement by the Foreign Ministry.

The UN panel, however, criticized France for a worrying rise in "racist and xenophobic discourse by politicians," asking the government to implement its recommendations and report back to the panel in a year's time.

Prosper said the UN panel had also raised broader concerns about a rise in racism and xenophobia, asking French authorities "to take measures to curb this rise and actually begin to promote understanding and tolerance."

French and European Commission officials said Friday that they will meet in the coming weeks to discuss the Paris' integration policies. EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding had criticized France saying she was following "with great attention and some concern" its controversial decision to repatriate hundreds of non-registered ethnic Roma to Romania and Bulgaria.

Author: Nicole Goebel (AFP/Reuters/dpa)

Editor: Sean Sinico

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