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Europe

France under fire over crackdown on illegal Roma camps

France is under mounting criticism for police raids on illegal Roma camps. Following international condemnation, the government is now facing flak closer to home.

A Roma family is seen in a makeshift camp in Saint Denis, near Paris

Some 300 illegal Roma camps are being targeted by officials

French police carried out their latest raid on an illegal Roma campsite on Saturday, as criticism of its policy mounted.

A lawmaker from French President Nicolas Sarkozy's ruling UMP party, Jean-Pierre Grand, said the government's policy was "disgraceful" and "reminiscent of roundups during the war."

The latest raid took place in an eastern Paris suburb. Sarkozy has alleged the illegal camps are centers of trafficking and prostitution.

Grand, a representative for the southern Herault region, said he had learned that, after arriving early in the morning, the authorities began to "break up families, sending men to one side and women and children on the other, and threatening to separate mothers and children."

International condemnation

France is home to hundreds of thousands of Roma or travelling people who are part of long-established communities. The other main Roma population is made up of recent immigrants, mainly from Romania and Bulgaria.

French Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux

Interior Minister Hortefeux said 40 camps had been dismantled

The crackdown is seen to be a response to last month's attack on a police station in the Loire Valley town of Saint-Aignan by a group of young Roma.

France's dismantling of illegal Roma camps as part of a crackdown on crime backed by Sarkozy has triggered condemnation by the United Nations and the Council of Europe.

On Thursday, the vice president of France's Human Rights League Malik Salemkour said that there was a problem of "institutionalized racism" in the country.

The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is also investigating how travelling communities such as the Roma are treated.

One committee member said that the French measures were reminiscent of the period of France's Vichy government, which collaborated with Nazis occupiers during the Second World War.

France defends policy

But France's UN ambassador, Jacques Pellet, rejected accusations that his government had a racist approach to the Roma. He told the meeting on Thursday that the "extremely precarious financial situation" of the minority, as well as their roots outside France made "integration difficult."

Marshal Petain

The tactics were likened to those used in Vichy France under Marshal Petain

French Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux said on Thursday that more than 40 Roma camps had already been dismantled - a week after authorities embarked on a plan to get rid of illegal camps and enforce mass deportations.

Roma, many of whom come from Bulgaria or Romania, are estimated to total 15,000 in number. As European Union citizens they are entitled to stay in France, but can be deported if they commit a crime.

Richard Connor (dpa/AP)
Editor: Sonia Phalnikar

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