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France to expel 700 Roma by month's end

Police evacuate a Roma family near a traffic circle in Villeneuve-d'Ascq after their caravan was removed from an illegal camp
Police evacuate a Roma family near a traffic circle in Villeneuve-d'Ascq after their caravan was removed from an illegal camp Reuters

 France is to begin to expel around 700 Roma rounded-up as part of a summer clampdown on members of the minority living illegally in the country.

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Immigration Minister Eric Besson said 79 Roma, who have agreed to return home in exchange for 300 euros for adults and 100 euros for minors, will board a charter flight bound for the Romanian capital Bucharest on Thursday.

"In all, around 700 Roma will be taken back to their countries before the end of the month," Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux told journalists in the south-eastern city of Toulon on Tuesday.

He said that so far police had dismantled 51 illegal Roma camps and that two flights would take the Roma to Romania and Bulgaria on 19 and 26 August, with a third flight set for the end of September.

President Nicolas Sarkozy's government has in recent weeks launched a major and controversial crackdown on France's Roma, Gypsy and traveller minorities, closing unauthorised camps and expelling foreign-born Roma from the country.

Last month, following a clash between Gypsies and police, Sarkozy announced a raft of new stringent security measures, including plans to dismantle 300 unauthorised campsites within three months.

Opinion polls show most French voters approve of the measures. Besson said the flights are nothing new, adding that Thursday's will be the 25th of this year to Romania and Bulgaria.

"There are no special flights to Romania. These are part of regular procedures of returning foreigners who are not in France legally to their country of origin," said the minister.

There are estimated to be 15,000 Gypsies and Roma of eastern European origin in France. Some live in authorised encampments, and others have moved into squatter camps or abandoned buildings.

 

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