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French President Vows Tough Stand on Foreign-Born Citizens

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French President Nicolas Sarkozy is vowing to get tough not only on illegal immigrants, but even on the country's foreign-born citizens.  The president says it's to bolster law and order, though critics accuse him of pandering to France's right-wing electorate by appearing tough on immigrants.  Some think this is a policy trend across Europe.

Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux said last week illegal Roma immigrants, also known as Gypsies, will be expelled from the country and hundreds of their camps will be dismantled.
He said Romas who have disturbed public order or have committed fraud will be deported to Bulgaria or to Romania.

Hortefeux said the government was not stigmatizing Roma, but says it is a question of public safety.  There recently have been a few public order incidents involving Roma, including a riot in southeastern France.

Mr. Sarkozy called the camps a source of illegal trafficking and prostitution.  The French government also has said it will strip naturalized citizens of their French nationality if they break the law.  The new policy would apply to people who have been French for less than 10 years and who commit serious crimes.

Meanwhile, a video has emerged that shows French police dragging immigrant women and children from a demonstration in Paris, where they were protesting their eviction from illegal squats.  John Dalhuisen, from Britain-based Amnesty International, says it is not clear from the video that the police had acted beyond their orders.  But he says it may have symbolized a wider trend in France.

"That reflects the fact that it seems to fit into a broader context in which an increasing number of repressive measures are being taken," said Dalhuisen.  "It has become a symbol, whether it is in fact in its own terms genuinely one or not, of a broader pattern."

Last month, politicians in France's lower house voted to ban the Islamic burqa in public places.  It said the veil oppresses women and leads to segregation.  Dalhuisen says measures like these add up to a tendency in France to view foreigners as outsiders and a social threat.

"The signs at this stage are not good, the intemperate language that has been used, the policy announcements that have been made," said Dalhuisen.  "All point to a situation in which the rights of foreigners, of people often, but not all by any means, in irregular situations, living very much on the margins of society, excluded from social services, excluded from the labor market, will see their situation worsen."

Executive Director Mark Lattimer of the London-based Minority Rights Group International says anti-immigrant right-wing parties are emerging across Europe.  He says the parties are not necessarily gaining a large number of votes, but their policies are seeping into mainstream politics.

"The far-right parties that exist in Europe at the moment on the whole, certainly in Western Europe, have very small support," said Lattimer.  "But one dangerous thing that happens is that mainstream political parties sometimes espouse some of their policies for populist motives.  They see that espousing anti-immigration rhetoric is a way of getting themselves voted into power.  Some of them rather bizarrely adopt the policies of far-right parties and justify it by saying this is a way of keeping the far right out."

Lattimer says French President Sarkozy may have adopted a rhetoric he thinks will be attractive to right-wing voters.  France's next presidential election is in less than two years.

"The President Nicolas Sarkozy has led a series of statements targeting immigrants, calling for a ban on certain types of Islamic dress on the streets of France and so on and so forth and they are really not justified on public-policy grounds, arguably they are contrary to the French constitution, but they are populist measures designed to get him support with a significant sector of the French population who of course are suffering in the current economic recession," said Lattimer.

Amnesty International estimates that there are around 20,000 Roma in France.  Many are recent immigrants from Central and Eastern Europe.

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