The Hidden Plight of the Roma: France Expels 1,000 “Gypsies”

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Living in shantytowns with squalid conditions and limited access to clean water, the Roma, otherwise known as gypsies, continue to suffer discrimination throughout Europe. The French government has expelled 1,000 Roma, forcibly relocating them to Romania. French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who faces record low approval ratings at home, called Roma camps a source of crime and prostitution.

European Union Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding said that the focus on Roma communities was similar to ethnic cleansing. She said, “[This was] a situation that I had thought that Europe would not have to witness again after the Second World War.”

During World War II, it has been estimated that more than 500,000 Roma were imprisoned and later executed in Nazi concentration camps.

Discrimination against the Roma has been institutionalized for centuries in Central and Eastern Europe; in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Romani were used as slaves during the 18th and 19th centuries. And as recently as 2001, healthcare workers in the Czech Republic were forcibly sterilizing Roma women, under a secret program begun in the late 1970s by the Communist Czechoslovak government.

In the last month alone, the French police have shut down and demolished 51 Roma camps, and memos leaked from the French Interior Ministry indicate plans to dismantle 300 illegal Roma camps or squats. The French government has been shutting down illegal Roma camps and “repatriating” them for years. Last year, 10,000 Roma were sent back to Romania and Bulgaria.

The French government says that it is a “decent and humane” policy of removing people from deplorable conditions, reported the BBC. Meanwhile, human rights groups, including the UN’s Committee on Elimination of Racial Discrimination, say that the French government’s actions are xenophobic and racist.

Although French government claims it is not specifically discriminating against the Roma, discrimination on ethnic grounds violates EU laws and charters, as well as the French constitution. Ms. Reding called France‘s deportation of the Roma a “disgrace.”

Although census figures are unclear because Roma usually do not register as legal citizens, there are at least 400,000 living in France. Some human rights organizations estimate that there are as many as 4,000,000 Roma living throughout Europe, with the highest concentrations in Turkey, Romania, and Bulgaria.

Roughly 12,000 Roma migrated to France after Bulgaria and Romania’s accession to the EU. Many of these people, unable to obtain the work permits required by law for them to stay in France, live in squalid camps and resort to begging.


By: Rebecca Baird-Remba


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Rebecca Baird-Remba is a staff writer at

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