France orders dismantling of Roma camp south of Paris

People from the Roma community wait outside their camp in Evry, near Paris,  August 27, 2012.

Story highlights

  • Interior minister's action means expulsion of 72 inhabitants, including 19 children
  • He says they will be housed elsewhere and will not be deported
  • Move is controversial: Socialist Party attacked party that dismantled Roma camps in 2010
  • Roma Europe support group says it's "shocked and furious" about the dismantling

Citing "unsanitary and unsecure living conditions," French Interior Minister Manuel Valls ordered police early Monday to dismantle a Roma camp set up along suburban railway tracks in Evry, south of Paris, and expel 72 inhabitants, including 19 children.

It is a controversial decision for President Francois Hollande's Socialist Party, which attacked former President Nicolas Sarkozy when his party dismantled Roma camps around France in 2010. Since the beginning of August, five camps have been dismantled under Valls' directive.

"I cannot support -- not just as interior minister, but as a citizen, as a militant member of the left -- these shantytowns, these huts where people live in conditions that are totally unbearable," Valls said in an interview with Europe1 radio.

Without giving details, he said the people will be housed elsewhere and will not be deported. However, he rejected the idea of housing all the Roma inhabitants in one building.

"It is necessary to fight against these mafias, these networks who maintain delinquency, who maintain also a criminality notably through the exploitation of minors," he said of the Roma, who also are called Gypsies.

Serge Guichard, of the Roma Europe support group, told CNN that his association was "shocked and furious" about the dismantling of the camp.

"We're talking about putting them in the care of the Red Cross. But after one week or two weeks, what happens to them? They return to the streets? Those who had a job will be unemployed, and children who were in school will no longer be educated," he said.

"It is unacceptable that in this country, human rights are not respected," he said, lamenting the "incapacity of those elected to see Roma as humans and not objects."

During his presidential campaign this year, Hollande sent a letter to Roma support groups saying that when camps were dismantled, alternative solutions would be proposed.

The European Commission investigated Sarkozy's government for abuses after the dismantling and destruction of Roma camps in 2010. At the time, Roma who voluntarily left France were given 300 euros in cash per adult and 150 euros per child.

Last week, the government sought to appease criticism by easing up on work restrictions for Romanian and Bulgarian nationals.

Valls said he will accompany the French minister for European affairs to Romania and Bulgaria to address the question of the Roma encampments in mid-September.

Roma are a group of people who live mainly in southern and eastern Europe, often in poverty. They tend to live in camps, caravans or informal settlements and have been the target of persecution throughout history.

According to the nonprofit organization Doctors of the World, or Medecins du Monde, around 15,000 Roma people live in makeshift camps across France.

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