The first 93 ethnic Roma who agreed to the “voluntary return procedure” have left France and landed in Bucharest on Thursday afternoon, as part of a plan of French authorities to expell people living in illegal camps.
The 93 ethnic Roma who agreed to a “voluntary return procedure” landed in Bucharest on Thursday afternoon, as part of moves by Paris to expel foreign-born Roma living in France without a permit.
Romanian President Traian Basescu said: “Romania has no objection to France’s plans to tackle illegal immigration, but it is also supporting the right of any Romanian citizen to travel freely around European Union.
‘We need to co-operate better with France on this issue.”
Kristalina Georgieva, the EU commissioner on International Co-operation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response, expressed concerns over France’s decision.
“France’s decision to deport Roma is worrisome for Brussels because it can lead to tension in Bulgaria,” she told local private television channel Nova TV.
“Roma should not be assimilated. They should be integrated to become part of society’s productive capacity,” she added.
The French government began the deportation of around 700 Roma people of Romanian and Bulgarian citizenship from illegal camps earlier on Thursday.
Those on the flight had agreed to the so-called “voluntary return procedure” under which each adult was granted €300 and each child €100.
Around 412 Roma people will be repatriated to Romania by the end of the month, Romanian state secretary Valentin Mocanu has said.
A total of 41 Roma are also being deported from France to Bulgaria, local broadcaster Darik Radio reported.
The first group of 13 will return on a flight from Paris to Varna, the country’s biggest seaside city, on August 25th, while the remainder will arrive on two additional flights on September 10th and 17th, said Bulgaria Air officials quoted by Darik radio.
Deyan Petrov, chairman of Amalipe, a Roma rights organisation based in the Bulgarian town of Veliko Tarnovo, said France’s decision was discriminative.
He told Balkan Insight: “We should remember that during World War II Nazis in Germany killed many Roma, claiming that they were fighting crime.
“I understand that there are probably some alleged criminals in Roma camps in France, but you can’t dismantle the whole camp just because of that.”
“If there’s a mass return of [jobless] Roma to Bulgaria, this could turn into a social crisis.”
The office of the French president said in a statement the camps were “sources of illegal trafficking, of profoundly shocking living standards, of exploitation of children for begging, of prostitution and crime”.
It added new legislation would be introduced soon to make the expulsion from France of illegal immigrants from Eastern Europe easier “for reasons of public order”.
Rights groups across Europe have attacked France’s decision, saying it violated human rights and the Roma were often treated like a sub-class of immigrants and targeted by police.
The Roma community in Romania numbers about 535,000 people according to the national census.
But non-governmental organisations, NGOs, say the figure is probably between 1.5-2 million as many do not declare themselves as Roma amid fears of being discriminated.
Roma in Bulgaria number about 370,000 people according to government statistics.
But NGOs say the actual number is nearer 700,000.
The minority is extremely marginalised, they say, as most live in poor conditions, suffer widespread discrimination and racism and have difficulties finding a job.
A total of 93 Roma were expected to arrive in Romania on Thursday on regular flights from France following a French clampdown on the minority, the interior ministry said.
Romanian President Traian Basescu meanwhile stressed the expulsions showed the need for a Europe-wide plan on integrating Roma communities.
“What has happened in Paris shows that we must have an integration plan across Europe for Roma citizens,” Basescu told reporters.
He said a previous call along similar lines had failed to result in action because some states, which he did not name, failed to see the “necessity” of such a move.
A planeload of around 60 Roma who agreed to a “voluntary return procedure” left Lyon airport for Bucharest in the afternoon, the first expulsion since President Nicolas Sarkozy last month vowed action against Roma, Gypsy and traveller communities.
A total 93 Roma were to be flown out Thursday, with flights to Bucharest and the western city of Timisoara due to take hundreds more on Friday and August 26, with each adult granted 300 euros (385 dollars) and each minor 100 euros.
Representatives from various state institutions including the child protection office, the national agency for Roma and the police would be on hand when they arrived.
“We understand problems created by Roma camps outside French cities”, Basescu said. “But we also support the right of every European citizen to travel freely in the Union”, he added.
Basescu underlined that Romania faced the same type of issues regarding Roma who had travelled to Italy.
“But we resolved the problem effectively by sending more police officers there. We will do the same with France”, he stressed.
The Romanian president insisted Romania “does not want an assimilation programme”.
“Every European citizen has the right to keep its culture and tradition”, he said. “Those who are travelling around are probably the ones that are nomadic gypsies”.
Europe counts between 10 and 12 million Roma, according to official European estimates.
The Roma community in Romania numbers 530,000 according to the national census or 2.5 million according to non-governmental organisations, who say that some do not declare themselves as Roma, fearing discrimination.