Criticism comes in wake of France’s decision to expel illegal Roma immigrants
and destroy hundreds of their encampments
By Leigh Phillips in Brussels, Kate Connolly in Berlin and Lizzy Davies in Paris
The London Guardian
The European Union was today accused of “turning a blind eye” as countries across Europe carried out a wave of expulsions and introduced new legislation targeting the Roma.
Human rights groups criticised the EU for failing to address the real issues driving Europe’s largest ethnic minority to migrate in the first place and for choosing not to upbraid countries for breaking both domestic and EU laws in their treatment of them.
The criticism came after France announced it would round up and expel illegal Roma immigrants and destroy hundreds of their encampments.
Elsewhere, it emerged that the city of Copenhagen had requested Danish government assistance to deport up to 400 Roma, and that Swedish police had expelled Roma in breach of its own and EU laws.
In Belgium a caravan of 700 Roma has been chased out of Flanders and forced to set up camp in French-speaking Wallonia in the south.
Italy, which in 2008 declared a state of emergency due to the presence of Roma, and evicted thousands of them, mainly to Romania and Bulgaria, is continuing to implement the policy to this day.
Germany is in the process of repatriating thousands of Roma children and adolescents to Kosovo, despite warnings they will face discrimination, appalling living conditions, lack of access to education as well as language problems, because many of them were born in Germany and do not speak Serbian or Albanian.
In eastern European countries that are EU members, such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, Romania and Bulgaria, accounts are rife of widespread discrimination against Roma, including physical attacks.
Amnesty International said the EU had “turned a blind eye” to what it called a “serious breach of human rights” towards Europe’s Roma, who are roughly estimated to number about 16 million.
“There is a clear and systemic programme of EU governments targeting Roma,” said Anneliese Baldaccini, a lawyer at Amnesty’s EU office.
The Budapest-based European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC), which monitors the situation of Roma in Europe, called on the EU to be “much more forthright” in pointing out to member states “the clear requirements of the free movement law”.
“Poverty, discrimination and a whole host of things make life unbearable for Roma in their countries of origin,” said the ERRC’s executive director, Robert Kushen. “We would welcome strong EU involvement to address some of these issues,” he said.
The campaign groups were responding to the European Commission’s insistence this week that the issue was one for individual states to handle.
“When it comes to Roma and the possibility of expelling them, this is up to the member states to deal with – in this case France – and for them to decide how they are going to implement the law,” said Matthew Newman, spokesman for the European justice commissioner, Viviane Reding.
French president Nicholas Sarkozy was this week accused of pursuing a “xenophobic” and “discriminatory” crackdown on the country’s 400,000 Travellers, Gypsies and Roma – most of whom have French citizenship.
Interior minister Brice Hortefeux announced new measures including the dismantling of about 300 encampments and the “quasi-immediate” expulsion to Romania or Bulgaria of Roma with a criminal record.
Amnesty said the EU should penalise countries that have persistently failed to uphold the human rights of Roma. Among the harshest measures applicable under the charter of fundamental rights that came into force with the Lisbon treaty last year is the withdrawal of voting rights, or even expulsion from the union.
“The EU under the Lisbon Treaty…has the responsibility to address human rights within the 27 member states,” said Amnesty’s executive officer for legal affairs in the European Union, Susanna Mehtonen.
Campaign groups say the EU’s failure to intervene calls into question its commitment to the Charter of Fundamental Rights that came into force with the passage of the Lisbon Treaty last year, and was heralded as a “new dawn” for human rights in Europe.
They have accused Brussels of cowardice when it comes to the Roma. While the commission has no competence to defend gay rights, either, it has frequently been ready to criticise homophobic legislation in eastern Europe – largely, it is believed, because gay rights are well established in western European countries, unlike the rights of Roma.
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