News / Europe

3 Questions: Roma Rights and Wrongs

3 Questions: Roma Rights and Wrongs
3 Questions: Roma Rights and Wrongs

Life can be difficult for the Roma people living across Europe.  Work can be scarce, language a barrier, and old prejudices hurtful.  Now, however, Roma workers living outside Romania are facing another problem - one that may end in deportation.

The Roma - also called Gypsies - are a distinct ethnic group dispersed across Europe.  While they come from Romania, they often travel across borders to follow work, living mostly among their own.

But the Roma have become unwelcome guests in the eyes of a growing number of European governments.

Nowhere is this more true than in France, where French President Nicholas Sarkozy has aggressively pursued the deportation of Roma.  It is a policy that is being duplicated in a growing number of nations; among them Italy, Germany, and Sweden.

The French policy is not new, and France argues the expulsions are necessary to "ensure public order."  Critics in France and across Europe criticize the continuing practice, but Mr. Sarkozy insists the deportation is needed and will continue.

The EU had threatened legal action against Paris, but it now appears some of those threats have been dropped – at least for the time being - allowing the deportation policy to continue in France and possibly other European nations.

VOA spoke about the issue with Rob Kushen, executive director of the European Roma Rights Center, based in Hungary.

You can listen to our complete interview with Rob Kushen here:

How are nations such as France justifying these policies legally?

"The legal background of this is that if you are a citizen of an EU member state, and Romania is an EU member state, then you have the right under EU law to travel freely in the European Union without a passport, and without any border formalities, and you can stay in a country for three months.  Theoretically, you can stay longer.   Now the EU allows countries to establish a means-test, in essence.  If a country wants to, it can impose restrictions after three months, after which you have to demonstrate you have sufficient financial resources so that you don’t become a burden on the state.  So that’s the background here.

France has offered a variety of justifications for what they are doing, including saying that people have stayed longer than three months, they cannot demonstrate the financial means to stay."

Why is this happening now in so many European countries?

"It’s a good question, and each country is perhaps a little bit different.  A lot of it is politically motivated.  Everyone agrees that in France, even though this practice has been going on for a few years, the President chose to make it a political issue and elevate the prominence of it because he’s facing political problems at home and trying to curry favor with the right-wing that doesn’t favor immigration, or the presence of Roma or people from Africa or other countries.  In Denmark, you have a similar reaction; you have a kind of right-wing, anti-immigrant, anti-Roma sentiment behind the expulsions there.  I would say Italy is the same; in 2008, the Italian government declared Roma people to be a security threat and imposed a series of emergency measures against them.  And this is very consistent with a right-wing, anti-immigrant frame of mind in Italy that affects not just Roma but migrants from other countries."

Just this week the EU said that it was dropping its threat of a lawsuit against France regarding the country's Roma policies.  So what are the options now for the Roma people living across Europe?

"First, I’d like to clarify that what the European Commission said was that France had responded to one set of concerns, which was that French law, as written, did not properly reflect the EU law on free movement and did not properly reflect the protections that need to be provided to EU citizens before they can be expelled.  France has said ‘We will fix that,’ and we hope they do and that needs to be closely monitored.

The other issue which is still alive, but which the Commission has chosen to downplay, is the basic question of whether France is discriminating against a group on the basis of ethnicity in its practice of expulsions.  And from my organization’s perspective, it’s clear on its face that France has an ethnically-discriminatory policy.  It was announced by the President, it was confirmed in a written document from the Ministry of Interior, that they were targeting Roma on the basis of ethnicity and race."

Doug Bernard

Doug Bernard covers cyber-issues for VOA, focusing on Internet privacy, security and censorship circumvention. Previously he edited VOA’s “Digital Frontiers” blog, produced the “Daily Download” webcast and hosted “Talk to America”, for which he won the International Presenter of the Year award from the Association for International Broadcasting. He began his career at Michigan Public Radio, and has contributed to "The New York Times," the "Christian Science Monitor," SPIN and NPR, among others. You can follow him @dfrontiers.

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