French President Nicolas Sarkozy will evict some 300 squatter camps in a crackdown on Roma immigrants and “Travellers.” People in the camps found to be living illegally in France will be expelled, Sarkozy said announcing the move. The order is a response to riots last week in which Travellers armed with hatchets and iron bars attacked the police station in the Loire Valley town of Saint Aignan. The riot erupted after a gendarme shot and killed a Traveller youth who had driven through a checkpoint. Sarkozy pledged that those responsible for the violence will be “severely punished.” The announcement came in a meeting between Sarkozy and top law enforcement officials at the Elysee Palace. Groups representing Travellers and Roma were not invited.
The “travelling people” or “gens du voyage,” mainly comprise French nationals. The Roma people are largely migrants from Eastern Europe, especially Romania. The National Federation of Associations in Support of Travelling People estimates that there are between 400,000 and 500,000 gens du voyage and 15,000 to 20,000 Roma in France today. Sarkozy’s move drew criticism from civil-rights advocates. “The president chose to racially stigmatize the Roma and the travelling people,” said the French Human Rights League, accusing Sarkozy of attempting “ethnically targeted deportations.” (BBC News, Bloomberg, July 28)
Amnesty International said: “We are troubled that the President of France’s reaction to a quite specific set of incidents would appear target, and perpetuate negative stereotypes about, Roma and Travellers in general.” French Travellers are already subject to discriminatory requirements to report periodically to the police and to be registered with a municipality for three years before acquiring the right to vote. Travellers also face a shortage of authorized camping sites enabling them to maintain their traditional lifestyles and professions. (AI press release, July 22)