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Each summer, problems arise with the nomadic peoples living in France (both foreigners and French nationals). The mayor of Nice and member of the UMP party (Union for a Popular Movement) Christian Etrosi recently made remarks that were described by some organizations as “xenophobic” and “dangerous”.
In declarations to the press on July 7th, Etrosi likened the behaviour of the Romani people (nomadic communities mostly from Romania and Hungary) with that of “criminals”, and said that Islam and democracy are “incompatible”. In May, the French police dismantled Romani people camps in Saint-Denis, close to the country’s capital, Paris, along the Var river. In Lyon, 200 Romani people were temporarily sent to a gym after the arson of an abandoned factory they were occupying, where two women and a 12-yeard old child died.
The French association SOS Racisme, which fights against all kinds of discrimination, will file a lawsuit against two French politicians: Etrosi, over his remarks of July 7th; and Jean-Marie Le Pen, former leader of the National Front (main party of the extreme right in France), who on July 4th described the presence of Romani people in Nice as “horrible”.
The situation of Romani and nomadic people in France is precarious. Besides, they suffer the increasingly violent rejection of the people and the authorities. The head of communications of SOS Racisme, Aline Le Bail-Kremer, told Real World Radio that in France, where there is growing hostile social and political atmosphere, the Romani people are one of the “escape goats” of the economic crisis.
“We witness violence and hatred by the public authorities”, she said. The European Union has also pointed at the existing loopholes in the French laws in terms of the schooling of Romani children. In fact, despite there being a law passed in 2000, called the “Besson” law, which forces the French municipalities to establish places to host nomadic peoples, many municipalities have not yet adopted the corresponding measures, thus denying the nomadic peoples the right to housing. For this reason, the communities are often forced to squat illegally, which fuels more conflicts and controversy.
“Unfortunately, these policies are often popular (they have the backing of part of the population). This is, no doubt, a classic strategy we have seen before, and not precisely in the best moments of history”, said Aline Le Bail-Kremer.
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