France - Romania

French Immigration Minister unaware of circular targeting Roma

Eric Besson, French Immigration Minister at a press conference in Bucharest with Romanian Foreign Affairs Ministers 9 Septembre 2010
Eric Besson, French Immigration Minister at a press conference in Bucharest with Romanian Foreign Affairs Ministers 9 Septembre 2010 AFP

France’s Immigration Minister Eric Besson said on Monday he was "not aware" of a leaked Ministry of the Interior circular, specifically targeting the evacuation of Roma camps.

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The circular, dated 5 August 2010 and signed by Michael Bart, Director of the Cabinet of the Minister of the Interior, reminds French officials of a “specific objective” set by President Nicolas Sarkozy: “300 camps or illegal settlements must be evacuated within three months, primarily those of the Roma".

Speaking on France 2 TV Monday, Besson said he was not aware of this circular. “I wasn’t a recipient, and I therefore didn’t need to know about it,” he said.

The circular contrasts with Besson's statement Thursday that "France has not taken any measure specifically against the Roma (who) are not considered as such but as natives of the country whose nationality they have."

The Immigration Minister refused to comment further, but claimed that "the concept of ethnic minorities is a concept that does not exist among [the French government]".

The text has provoked a host of reactions from the left, including that of the Group for Information and Support for Immigrants (Gisti) which says it is examining the document to see if it has broken any criminal laws.

"Can you imagine a circular specifically naming Jews or Arabs?" said Stephane Maugendre, chairman of the Gisti group speaking on France Info radio.

The Socialist Party has also criticised the legality of the text and said that the circular was "a symbol of xenophobic policy".

"I ask the European Commission and its president Jose Manuel Barroso to initiate infringement proceedings against the French government to end the indignity and stigma unacceptable to the European citizens that are Roma," said Harlem Désir, MEP and national secretary, in a statement.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, said Monday that France's policies on Roma gypsies only serve to exacerbate the stigmatisation of the minority traveller community.

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