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French Experiment to Integrate Roma Under Threat

  • Lisa Bryant

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents and human rights groups.

At a Sunday meeting at Samaritain’s Evangelical church, people gather not to discuss the afterlife, but the more immediate future - plans by local authorities to raze the La Courneuve slum by the end of the month.

Nobody chose to live in the rat-infested grimy settlement of makeshift houses in La Courneuve, sandwiched under a highway north of Paris. But for Samaritain’s 300 residents, mostly Roma from western Romania, it is the only home they have. And today, the Roma and their supporters are fighting back.

Architect Fiona Meadows is part of an association that is offering another option.

“The only thing we want to do is that for two to three years, we help them on a project so they can earn money and become normal Europeans and get out of this slum, get out of poverty. If the mayor kicks them out ... they are going to be spread out in the streets. They are going to open a new slum, and nothing is going to happen,” said Meadows.

The association wants to improve housing, build toilets and get rid of garbage. With a fixed address, Roma kids can go to school and their parents can find jobs. That will allow them to move out of Samaritain, to better housing and lives.

La Courneuve’s Mayor Gilles Poux said the slum cannot stay. It is unhygienic and unsafe. Mayor Poux declined an interview with VOA, but one Courneuve resident, Mustafa Maboub, believes the mayor has a point.

He said because people are complaining about the slum, the mayor has no choice but to dismantle it.

At Samaritain, 17-year-old Jozsef Farkas has launched a petition to save the slum. it has drawn about 37,000 signatures.

He said the Roma here want a different life. They want to be part of France. They want to work, have a place to live and send their children to school. They do not want to be expelled from the country.

The Samaritain project has one supporter in city hall: Councilor Mehdi Bouteghmes.

“I think that human beings should be better respected and live in a better situation than what we offer these people. Not just because they are Roma, should they be excluded from a normal life,” said Bouteghmes.

France has been widely criticized for its policies toward the roughly 20,000 Roma living in the country. Thousands are evicted and deported every year. For its supporters, Samaritain can be a model, and one solution to a much bigger European problem.

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