By Paul Ciocoiu
A new repatriation deal between Romania and France infringes on human rights, Roma groups and NGOs said after the agreement was struck last week during a visit by French interior and European affairs ministers, Manuel Valls and Benard Cazeneuve, to Bucharest.
The programme, which plans to integrate about 80 Roma families, is in response to the public outcry over the French government’s efforts to expel hundreds of Roma.
Several hundred Roma have been flown to Romania over the past several months in what French authorities call voluntary repatriation, which have included financial stimulus.
“This pilot programme is a bad joke which shows neither of the two governments wants to assume finding real solutions for this problem,” David Mark, head of the NGO coalition Civic Alliance of Roma in Romania, told SETimes.
It creates a dangerous precedent because it projects only repressive policies as an answer to the Roma issue, Mark said. The deal is also suspect because Roma representatives were not consulted and the discussions lacked transparency, according to Marian Mandache, executive director of the leading Roma NGO in Romania, Romani Criss.
“It should have followed a public debate including the interested factors. One can not adopt policies without consulting the targeted segment of the society,” Mandache told SETimes.
In a bid to integrate the 15,000 Roma in French society, the authorities annulled a tax last month, which limited the Roma’s access to the labour market.
“What the French did was solely enter a state of normalcy since the fee was illegal and arbitrary,” Mandache said. But several hundred Roma have been repatriated since on the grounds they lack proper residency permits.
Human rights organisations accused the French government of discrimination for continuing the collective repatriations former President Nicolas Sarkozy adopted two years ago, which have drawn harsh criticism from the EC.
In Bucharest, Valls defended France’s policy, and said the country will continue both the Roma’s integration and repatriations. But the integration first has to be carried out in the country of origin, he said.
Mandache said the responsibility may belong to the country of origin, but that does not entitle France to do whatever it pleases.
“The French authorities have to observe both the French and European legislation. Unfortunately, the Roma have become a good and cheap source of popularity for the French politicians,” Mandache said.
Romanian authorities said the pilot programme seeks to break the vicious circle of voluntary repatriations, given that many Roma return to France as soon as they are repatriated.
“The programme will be implemented in five counties in Romania and will focus on social inclusion and education for the Roma returnees from France. We will keep co-operating with the French in order to find the best solutions for Roma’s integration,” Damian Draghici, advisor for Roma issues to Prime Minister Victor Ponta, told SETimes.
But the French should also take responsibility for the Roma who, after all, are EU citizens and are entitled to mobility, he added.
Draghici argued Roma leaders are also to blame for their community’s slow integration. “Perhaps the Roma elite have been sometimes too busy minding their own interests,” he said.
Some warn that if Roma lack opportunities they will continue to return to France.
“As long as schools remain segregated and Roma are discriminated against when looking for a job, they will keep leaving the country,” Mark said.