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French Romani people are generally known in spoken French as "Manouches" or "Tsiganes". The terms "Romanichel" and "Gitan" are considered pejorative, and "Bohémien" is outdated. The French National Gendarmerie tends to refer to "MENS" ("Minorités Ethniques Non-Sédentarisées"), a neutral administrative term meaning "Travelling Ethnic Minorities".
Approximately 400,000 Romanies live in France as part of established communities. Additionally, French Romani rights group FNASAT report that there are at least 12,000 Roma (Romani subgroup) who come from Romania and Bulgaria living in illegal urban camps throughout the country. French authorities often close down these encampments. In 2009, more than 10,000 Roma were sent back to Romania and Bulgaria.
In 2009, the European Committee of Social Rights found France to violate the European Social Charter (rights to housing, right to protection against poverty and social exclusion, right of the family to protection) in respect of Romani population.
On 16 July 2010, French police shot and killed a 22-year-old French Romani man who fled a police check-point by driving through it in a BMW car. In retaliation, a group later identified as 'travellers' ("Gens du voyage") attacked and pillaged the village of Saint-Aignan in central France. The local mayor described the disturbances as "a settling of scores between the travellers and the gendarmerie". On the same night and for a few nights thereafter, riots erupted in a Grenoble neighborhood. French police in pursuit, having been shot at on three occasions during the chase, in turn shot and killed Karim Boudouda, a 27-year-old resident involved in a robbery at the Uriage-les-Bains casino near the border with Switzerland.
On 30 July, the French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, made a speech in Grenoble concerning the recent events, both there and at Saint-Aignan. He said that anyone who "threatens the life of a police officer or anybody involved in public policing” should have their nationality revoked. He criticized demonstrations against the police that occurred in both cases after perpetrators were killed while committing criminal acts and wantonly endangering police officers' lives, and in this context he was reported as saying that 'he had asked the interior minister to "put an end to the wild squatting and camping of the Roma" as well as to prevent further destruction by the rioters in Grenoble. As president, he said, (he) could not accept the fact that there were 539 illegal Romani camps in his country, and he promised that half of them would be gone within three months.
On Sunday, 15 August, a group of Roma and nearly 250 of their vehicles blocked a major bridge near Bordeaux after being evicted from their campsite in the nearby town of Anglet. The blockade was the first major public protest of Sarkozy’s evictions of Roma all over France.
Sarkozy's office released a statement naming the camps as "sources of illegal trafficking, of profoundly shocking living standards, of exploitation of children for begging, of prostitution and crime". The first groups of Roma left the country on 19 August 2010, and French authorities insisted that they did so voluntarily after offered a resettlement sum of €300 for each adult and €100 for each child. However, the alternative is facing the chance of forcible expulsion in a month. The first flight carried 79 Roma back to their original Romania and over 290 more deportations were scheduled for the following week. Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux plans to work with Sarkozy to dismantle half of the illegal camps in France by November 2010. By the end of the month Hortefeux broke up 51 camps and expelled 700 Roma. France recognizes the threat of the Roma returning after they are repatriated to Romania since many have Romanian passports, and have fingerprinted the deportees to ensure that they will not be able to receive any more “handouts” from France. Many of the repatriated Roma have said they will return to France after they are expelled, prompting authorities to fingerprint them upon repatriation. An advisor to the Romanian foreign minister and an ethnic Roma himself, Gheorghe Radulescu, has said of the deportations, “It’s a waste of money with no result. They just opened up a way for our Gypsies to get some money.” In 2009 alone, approximately 10,000 Roma were deported from France, and virtually all of them returned several weeks after they were deported. If they are citizens of the European Union, Roma from Romania and Bulgaria are permitted to travel to France and stay for up to three months. If they “find work, start studies, or find some other way of becoming established in France” they are allowed to stay, but if they do not then they risk deportation. The French government said that the Roma that were expelled in the 19 August group had overstayed their three-month limit without meeting any of the requirements to legally stay for longer.
There were more protests on 4 September, this time totaling between 77,000 and 100,000 people protesting the government’s Roma deportation policy in over 130 French towns. Hortefeux downplayed the protests, calling them a “disappointment” for the organizers.
On 14 September, Viviane Reding, Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for Justice, Fundamental Rights and citizenship made a statement on the recent developments on the Roma situation in France. She called the repatriations “a disgrace”. She also stated, "I am personally convinced the commission will have no choice but to initiate infringement action against France". Her speech came after the 9 September leak of instructions from the French interior ministry saying that the evacuation of 300 illegal camps within three months, with the Roma camps being a “priority.” A few days before the memo was leaked, France’s immigration minister, Eric Besson, insisted that the eviction policy was not being aimed at the Roma and that all migrants not meeting France’s residency laws were being treated equally. Even though Reding threatened initiating legal action against France, on 19 October she said she was content that France responded “positively” to the official request from the European Commission and that the Commission would not be pursuing any infringement procedures. Although the Commission did not pursue any procedures, it did demand that France provide more evidence that Roma were not being intentionally targeted.
Opponents of the expulsions claimed that France, as a member of the European Union, violated the individual rights to freedom of movement as citizens of Romania and Bulgaria, both E.U. member nations. In fact, according to the terms of accession of Romania and Bulgaria to the EU, France and several other EU countries had reserved the right to limit immigration from these countries (for a few years) to those with work permits, and the expulsions thus did not violate EU rules or France's obligations to the EU. Nevertheless, on 18 August, the E.U. Commission for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship reminded France of this right of E.U. citizens and announced that it would continue to monitor the deportation procedures. French authorities argue that they have not violated their obligations to The Freedom of Movement directive because the directive allows for deportation of an EU citizen under circumstances where an individual has resided in a certain country for more three months and cannot provide evidence of sufficient means to stay, for example through employment, or poses a "genuine, present and sufficiently serious threat for public policy or public security". Immigration minister Eric Besson has also said, “Free movement in the European area doesn't mean free settlement. What has been forgotten is that each of the European countries is responsible for its own national citizens."
In response to the events, Romanian President Traian Băsescu acknowledged the problems arising from Romani encampments but insisted on the "right of every European citizen to move freely in the E.U." Members of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination have also criticized the expulsions as labeled them as signs of racism and xenophobia. France responded to the Committee’s claims and insisted that the actions that have been taken, "fully conform with European rules and do not in any way affect the freedom of movement for EU citizens, as defined by treaties." Critics accused Sarkozy, whose approval rating had dropped to a low of 25 percent and whose government has been involved in several scandals, of using the incident for his political gain. Opinion polls conducted of French voters indicate that a majority approved the deportation measures.
France continues to deport Roma back to their homeland of Romania even after Sarkozy’s three-month Roma eviction policy ended last year. On 12 April a chartered flight left northern France headed for Timisoara in western Romania with as many as 160 Roma on board. Like in the 2010 deportations, those who left France received 300 euros and each Roma child was given 100 euros. The Roma on 12 April flight all signed declarations, that they would never return to France. On 9 August, the city of Marseille in southern France forcibly evicted 100 Roma people via a municipal order who had settled in a makeshift camp near Porte d’Aix. They were given 24 hours to break down their camps and leave. It has also been reported that a chartered flight carrying approximately 150 Roma back to Romania left the Lyon area on 20 September. France’s goal for 2011 is to deport 30,000 Roma back to their home country. As of 2012, France sent about 8,000 Roma back to Romania and Bulgaria in 2011, after dismantling illegal camps where they were living on the outskirts of cities. The actions prompted controversy and calls for greater inclusion of Roma people.
In August 2012 the Socialist government of François Hollande began evicting and dismantling Roma camps and deporting Roma. Reuters reported that a charter plane flew 240 Roma, including children, back to Bucharest, Romania, from Lyon. According to Manuel Valls, Minister of the Interior the evictions were based on sanitary concerns and tensions with working class neighbors.
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