News / Europe

France Comes Under Fresh Criticism for Roma Policy

French President Nicolas Sarkozy exchanges gifts with Pope Benedict XVI during a private audience at the Vatican, Friday, Oct. 8, 2010.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy exchanges gifts with Pope Benedict XVI during a private audience at the Vatican, Friday, Oct. 8, 2010.
Lisa Bryant

The French government came under fresh criticism over its Roma policy Friday even as France's president Nicolas Sarkozy met with Pope Benedict in a visit partly seen as mending fences over France's crackdown on the gypsies.

Several human rights groups have filed a complaint against the center-right French government for allegedly keeping secret lists on gypsies, or Roma, along with other itinerant minorities. They claim this is against French law, which prohibits ethnic profiling - or any official statistics based on ethnic origin.

In an interview by France 24 television, a lawyer from the French Human Rights League also claimed that Roma camping illegally outside Paris had been submitted to DNA tests, which he claimed was completely abnormal and possibly illegal.

But Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux denied authorities were keeping any kind of national list based on ethnic origin. Hortefeux told French radio that authorities did have a system of tracking itinerant people, but not based on their ethnic origins. If there were aberrations, he said, they would be corrected.

The complaints are the latest in a barrage of criticism since the government began sending hundreds of Roma back to their home countries of Romania and Bulgaria. As EU citizens, Roma have the right to visit France but not to reside or work here without permission. The French government claims it is not targeting the Roma in particular, but simply cracking down on crime in general.

On Friday, French President Nicolas Sarkozy held talks at the Vatican with Pope Benedict and other top officials, who have criticized the explusions.

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